Snowy White. may be best remembered for his 'B2 hit BIRD OF PARADISE (on CD here for the first time in the UK), but is widely regarded as one of the top session players around and has also gathered many admirers via his solo work - the man's lyrical and understated guitar playing scoring where flashier fret people miss the point completely. This compilation of Snowy's work highlights both aspects of his career, with numerous rare & unissued tracks.
From Snowy's sessions come tracks by THIN LIZZY, RICK WRIGHT, PETER GREEN, AL STEWART and PINK FLOYD (including the ultra-rare complete take of PIGS ON THE WING, specially remixed by Floyd's engineer for this CD). From his solo work yet more unissued tracks plus some personal favourites, including HIGHWAY TO THE SUN (a recent single) and the haunting LOVE, PAIN & SORROW featuring Snowy and Dave Gilmour.
Snowy has also contributed to the lengthy sleevenote and supplied rare pictures for the CD inlay.
Many tracks on CD for first time, seven previously unissued. Special fold-out inlay with notes and photos.
Someone suggested that I write a few words to accompany the sleeve notes on this release. Instead of that, I think the following quotes sum up the situation better than I ever could - and they certainly prove that you can't please all of the people all of the time...
"I'll tell you who's a good player - Snowy White. He plays on my latest recording. I don't know whether he's still in the shadow of other people but he's good." Peter Green, Guitar Magazine, 1981.
"One of the best singles of 1980. New guitarist Snowy White shines with a sparkling lead break." MM Review of Chinatown 45, 1980.
"White looks like he'd rather be outside cleaning the windows." Review of Thin Lizzy gig, Hammersmith, 1982.
"A fine exhibition from a generally underrated guitarist." Sounds review of White Flames LP, 1983.
"I've seen washing machines with more passion than this geezer!" Kerrang review of same album!
"One of my favourite songs of all time." Steve Wright, Radio 1, after playing "Bird Of Paradise", 1983.
"Your guitar play and sweet voice were caught me and separeted (sic)." Japanese fan letter, 1984.
"Has the contract been signed yet? If so when can I expect some money?" Letter from bank manager, 1991.
"Snowy White? Is he some kind of black rhythm & blues singer?" Australian DJ, 1986.
For guitarist Snowy White, his chosen instrument has proved a passport not only out of his native Isle of Wight but to a career in music - most recently with his own band but equally importantly as a featured player with names as varied and prestigious as Al Stewart, Steve Harley, Pink Floyd and Thin Lizzy
Son of a drummer who led the Don White Dance Band, Snowy (real name Terence, he picked up the nickname at school) graduated from ukulele to guitar at the age of eleven. 'At one point I just heard something from BB King or somebody like that ... it was blues anyway and I don't know what happened. It just struck a chord - well three chords, actually!'
His father had a reel to reel tape recorder, rare in the mid 1960s, which proved useful when UK blues godfather John Mayall made his first ever radio broadcast. 'It was with Eric Clapton, and I happened to record it so I could keep listening to it: it was "Stepping Out" and a couple of other things. Then I heard Clapton talking about his influences, so I started digging back and really got into the blues. I discovered that playing was what I wanted to do ."
A drummer friend had moved to Sweden, and for Snowy what began as a two-week holiday ('to carry his kit') turned into a two-year stay. 'I was in a couple of bands. nothing special really. A three-piece called The Train did a few gigs. I was really broke. I hitchhiked home from Sweden to the Isle of Wight once with no shoes! But I was free, that was the thing.
I finallly got in a band who were rehearsing in Essex and their manager found me a two-room flat in Stoke Newington. I started meeting a few people and getting a few gigs, a few sessions and over the next few years it built up. Athough I was never a versatile guitar player - I could do one or two things quite well - I think I got a reputation for being fairly reliable, fairly normal.'
Notable engagements around this time included a Joan Armatrading radio broadcast, plus sessions for Linda Lewis.
His first studio recording had been with a band called Heavy Heart, though the album never saw the light of day: 'We were just a re-hearsing band really.' It did however bring him together for the first time with Japanese bass player Kuma Harada, who arrived via the Amsterdam production of Hair without knowing a word of English! The two still play together to this day. Heavy Heart's drummer also happened to know Peter Green's phone number and in 1970 Snowy decided on a whim to call up the former Fleetwood Mac supremo who just as the band he'd led began to receive worldwide acclaim, had quit.
'I went to a phone box,' Snowy recalls, 'and said "I've just come into town" and I'm looking for a few people to have a jam with. Any chance of coming down?" I thought he'd say "Fuck off!" but he said "Yes, alright, do you want to come tomorrow?"
'So I went round and had a jam in his front room with a parrot squawking and his dad. And that's how I met Pete: it was three o'clock in the afternoon when I got there and he still had his dressing gown on...'
The first studio recordings featuring Snowy to be released came in 1974, the year when he really made his mark. 'I answered an advert for Jonathan Kelly, he was looking for a guitar player and I got the gig.' After touring with his band, Outside, White played on 'Waiting On You', the fourth album by the Irish singer-songwriter (real name Jon Ledingham), who acquired the services of Snowy and his guitar, the 1957 'Gold Top' Les Paul he still plays today, for the then-bountiful sum of £40 a week.
'We did quite a few gigs, a lot of playing, which is what I like to do, and Kuma came into the band after a while. I admired Jon because he was very politically minded and his songs all meant something, the lyrics were great.' Like Fleetwood Mac's Jeremy Spencer, though, Kelly reportedly later forsook rock for religion. Bigger things beckoned for Snowy, too, in the shape of Cockney Rebel. Steve Harley's outfit were at the peak of popularity; '(Come Up And See Me) Make Me Smile' was Number 1, and he got the job via band member Jim Cregan, formerly of Stud, for whom Snowy had once roadied.
'I always remember the first gig. I was standing in front of a Marshall 100 watt amp and I couldn't hear it, all I could hear was screams ... It was good fun!' But a British stint was the full extent of his Cockney Rebellion: three days before a European tour, Al Stewart's manager called him to replace Tim Renwick, (another Pink Floyd guitarist-to-be who had also sessioned with Jonathan Kelly), for the second half of a US tour. Snowy learned the set at two days' notice, and was understandably peeved when, on a live broadcast from the Tower Theatre in Philadelphia, bass player Charlie Harrison made a mistake during 'Modern Times'. 'He was a great guy, but he always used to mess up because there was all odd count in one of the bars. I thought "He must get it right tonight, as it's a live broadcast" and he didn't. I got pissed off and played this aggressive guitar solo which took everybody by surprise, including me!'
It is with Al Stewart that our CD begins, with Snowy keen for us to include 'Carol' and 'Dark And Rolling Sea', both from the aforementioned broadcast back in 1974. 'I've chosen them because they just bring back certain memories. This was my first trip to the States, a fortnight touring around in a couple of station wagons: I had one or two interesting experiences.'
Back in Blighty, Snowy was hired for a session with futuristic author turned singer Michael Moorcock. 'I quite like science fiction, although I wasn't into Michael's books.' This group, comprising mostly Hawkwind members like Simon House and Alan Powell did one album - 'The New Worlds Fair', released by United Artists in 1975 (UAG 29732), which Snowy recalls as 'not very well recorded but there's some interesting ideas' Now a rare LP, space has precluded us from squeezing a track on.
Having dipped a toe into the world of sci-fi, the time was right to set the controls for the heart of the sun. The Pink Floyd connection came over the garden wall - via Kate Bush's manager, who tipped off her neighbour that the Floyd wanted to augment their line-up for the first time, and had been trying to contact Snowy to see if he was interested. 'I must admit I'd never really heard much of the Floyd's stuff - I hadn't even heard all of "Dark Side Of The Moon" - but I thought it could be quite interesting.'
Though the vacancy was for live work only, a meeting took place in the studio in mid 1976 while the band were putting the finishing touches to their latest album, 'Animals'.
'Roger (Waters) said "While you're here you might as well play".' Having just been introduced to rock legends, some people might have been shy of venturing onto recording tape ~ but not Snowy. 'I didn't have any preconceived ideas. They were just guys in the studio I'd never met before, and I was used to that!'
The result was 'Pigs On The Wing'. 'We played it live, I think. When it came to the middle bit I just did a little solo, it wasn't even my guitar, I didn't have it with me that day.'
Until now, Snowy's contributiun to the track remained unheard by all except 8-track cartridge owners, since all other formats included 'Parts I & 2' on separate sides with Snowy's linking guitar piece edited out. 'Roger came up one day and said he'd got some bad news. 1 thought we weren't doing the tour and he said "No, we're not putting that piece of music on" and I thought "Thank God, is that all?" I thought I was out of the band!' The complete version featured here was remixed and mastered from the original 24-track tape with the kind assistance of Floyd's engineer Andy Jackson and this is the first time it has ever appeared on CD.
The Floyd connections were maintained when keyboardist Rick Wright invited Snowy to play on his first solo effort 'Wet Dream'. The basic band of ex-Herd bassist Larry Steele, Snowy, Rick ('credited as 'Richard Wright', to be formal) and Reg Isadore on drums, put down some laid-back, mainly instrumental grooves. 'I enjoyed it,' recalls Snowy of that sojourn in tax exile country in the south of France. 'I think it's a good album.'
As, indeed, was playing on stage with Pink Floyd, which occupied Snowy from January to July 1977. 'Pigs On The Wing' was an obvious highlight, with Snowy allowed his turn in the spotlight: indeed, as he explains, he had quite a lot to do during the show.
'With the "Animals" tour it was interesting because I played bass a lot of ihe time in the first half. I used to walk on stage on my own and start the show with this bass thing and then the others used to walk on. Then in the second half of the show they did 'Wish You Were Here' and various other tracks where sometimes I'd play the odd bit of harmony with Dave, sometimes I'd play rhythm, sometimes lead.
'Then towards the end it got a bit more Freer and Dave and I would swap licks and things ... "Shine On You Crazy Diamond", I used to be able to let fly a little bit on that. There was a certain amount of freedom and I think I managed to keep my own sound through most of it. There were times when there were echoes and fuzzes and those sort of things: it was nice to do all that.' While not playing live with the Floyd and/or sessioning, Snowy kept his chops together by playing pub gigs around London - a comedown for some, but meat and drink to a man who just loves playing. For Peter Green, looking for a low-key return to the music scene, Snowy and his band (featuring the ubiquitous Kuma Harada and Rick Wright sessioneer Reg Isadore) was tailormade. 'One day Pete rang up and said he was going to go back in the studio ... would we be interested if he used the whole band? So we did "In The Skies", that was 1979.'
For this release, Snowy's chosen 'a couple of things where Pete's playing rhythm and I'm playing lead - because it's my album!' In fact these particular tracks are from the original jams that we did on the first day, down at the Who's studio in Shepperton.' In fact, Peter was still a little unsure of himself in the studio and relied rather a lot on Snowy's playing, which was fine - but perhaps not what the label were after when they decided to do a Peter Green LP! When PVK Records took Peter back into the studio to cut a follow-up album a second guitarist was conspicuously absent in an effort to persuade Peter to take more of the spotlight. Still, for our purposes these snatches - cut live in the studio really show Snowy at his best. The recordings come from Snowy's own copy tapes; the masters were recorded over during the album sessions.
Snowy's next move took him back to the big stages yet he admits the two-album stint spent with melodic hard-rockers Thin Lizzy was not the happiest of times in his career. The attraction was 'there'd be space to do my kind of thing ... also they were going to do a lot of touring, which I love.'
It's not widely known that the man responsible for introducing Snowy to Lizzy was none other than Cliff Richard! A Greenbelt festival appearance had been arranged to celebrate Cliff's first Number 1 for 11 years, 'We Don't Talk Anymore' - and while a hand-picked band, including Snowy, was rehearsing for it, Thin Lizzy were trying out guitar players in the next studio. Lizzy's American guitarist Scott Gorham had been an interested spectator at the Floyd's Madison Square Garden gig and asked Snowy if he fancied trying out.
But musical and social differences soon started to show. 'I'd be in the studio at one o'clock in the afternoon when we were supposed to start and Phil (Lynott) would turn up at midnight ready to go all night ... 'The story of how drugs tore the band and its leader apart has already inspired a book, but Snowy, who 'didn't pretend I was anything other than what I was', survived to tell his own tale. 'The problem is with a band like Lizzy,' he explains, 'is that when you do a gig, everybody wants to hear all the old stUff.' This restricted Snowy's room to manoeuvre, and he all too often found himself cloning predecessors Brian Robertson and Gary Moore. 'It's got to be pretty similar to how it's meant to be,' he concedes, 'which I don't mind as long as I can do other things as well.' But too little time was being spent rehearsing or songwriting, and the satisfaction level declined rapidly. After Lizzy had toured to promote the 'Renegade' LP, Snowy's second album with the group (his first had been 1980's 'Chinatown'), his place was taken in April 1982 by future Whitesnake man John Sykes, a more 'aggressive' axeman in the heavy metal stereotype.
Two tracks here serve to demonstrate a direction Snowy feels Thin Lizzy should have strived harder to pursue. The title track of 'Renegade' has 'memories of the sort of music that I would have liked to have done more of witb them, more bluesy. It was my idea to start with, the basic chords; Phil came up with a few ideas for lyrics and I was quite pleased with what it turned into.' 'Memory Pain' is an old blues standard written by Percy Mayfield and released as the B-side to July 1984's 'Trouble Boys' single that more than deserves a wider airing and again hints at promise unfulfilled.
Next on the agenda was Snowy White's greatest hit - 'Bird Of Paradise', a near instrumental rock ballad that soared to reach Number 6 in the British charts in early 1984. It launched a solo career that continues to this day ... by accident rather than design! 'My first reaction after leaving Thin Lizzy,' Snowy admits, 'was to get back with Kuma and Richard (Bailey), the rhythm section I'd been playing witb and admired. I just wanted to play with somebody different after the Thin Lizzy loud stuff.
'We just got together and jammed a bit ... I can't remember how I got in touch with Towerbell (the London-based indie label that signed him) but they were quite happy just to let me do my own thing without interfering. We went in and recorded it at a rehearsal place on a mobile owned by Tom ("Tubular Bells" engineer) Newman. It's not a very well produced album because of the limitations of the equipment and the time and it was never intended as the great launch of a solo career, it was just that I enjoyed doing it after what I'd been doing for the past couple of years.
'I wasn't thinking about hit records, it wasn't my idea to put "Bird Of Paradise" out and I didn't expect it to do anything. I wrote the chord progression and decided that it would be great to play guitar over, it would make the guitar lift and soar. Then I thought I'd turn it into a song: it took me about ten minutes, including the lyrics, and that was it. We recorded it about one in the morning when we were just about to pack up and go. I played it through in the morning and thought it sounded alright. Suddenly Steve Wright latched onto it and kept playing it - that's what made it a hit.'
The Radio 1 DJ complemented Snowy on his vocal when they met on Top Of The Pops, ('...I'd done TV a lot of times before with Thin Lizzy, so that side of it was no problem') but he hadn't intended to sing on it at all. 'Originally, it was going to be an instrumental album. I'm not a singer, I'm just a guitar player - always have been and always will be, though I'm getting better now, a bit more confident.'
"Bird Of Paradise" came from Snowy's first solo album 'White Flames' (Towerbell TOWLP3), issued in 1983. When the single (Towerbell TOW42 - 7" and 12") took off, stickers were hastily affixed to the cover. The LP cut is actually extended but Snowy opted to use the shorter single edit here. Our second cut from the LP, 'The Answer', is in Snowy's words 'the opposite of "Bird Of Paradise". It's short and fast ... one of the stronger tracks on the album.' Snowy had always written material, but it had taken the best part of two decades for him to begin to express himself on record. Surprisingly, "Bird Of Paradise" wasn't Towerbell's greatest hit, since Joe Fagin simultaneously took the Auf Weidersehen Pet theme 'That's Livin' Alright' to Number 3. The label folded after Snowy's eponymous eight-track follow up album in 1985 (Towerbell TOWLP8). The label's founder 'went off to Antigua and bought a restaurant', so 'For You', the next Snowy White single to broach the top 75, came out in late 1985 on R4, a label run by Snowy's then management company. 'I'm not particularly proud of the song,' Snowy says with characteristic honesty. 'I wrote it because I wanted a hit single.' That's why it's not been included here! There was also a third Snowy White album, 'That Certain Thing', issued (in the UK only) on the now defunct Legend label but unrepresented here 'becuase I fell out with the record company and hadn't really finished it when they released it'.
Since "Bird Of Paradise" Snowy's session work has diminished and he has concentrated more on his own career, though ex-Floyd man Roger Waters has used him on both the historic 'Wall' concert in Berlin in 1990 and a Guitar Legends showcase in Seville a few years later.
'The Wall' was a work Snowy had been in on from the start, having also played both the US and UK gigs that promoted it in 1980. 'I remember sitting next to Roger in the plane on the way back at the end of the "Animals" tour and he was telling me this idea he had about building a wall between the band and the audience, and I sort of thought "That's weird, that'll never happen." Of course, being Roger, he makes it happen...'
With no aspirations to become a fully fledged rock-star, Snowy decided he just wanted to play guitar for a while, and returned to his first musical love in 1988 with the Blues Agency, bringing in Graham Bell (of Skip Bifferty/Bell and Arc fame) to sing and play harmonica in front of a rhythm section comprising Jeff Allen (ex-East of Eden) and Kuma Harada. 'We did a few gigs and made two albums. The two instrumentals on this CD, "Out Of Order" and "Open For Business", are off the second. It was released in Europe as "Blues On Me" although I called it "Open For Business": the first LP was "Change My Life". They came out on Bellaphon in Germany and Rio Digital over here. We only did it for the fun of it really, we didn't expect to sell many.'
As well as Bell, Snowy recruited another Seventies legend, John 'Rabbit' Bundrick, whose keyboard work looms large on the previously unissued live 'Judgement Day', cut in Cornwall in 1993 at a charity benefit for Relate. Ex-Free man Rabbit also played a major role in 'Highway To The Sun', a 1994 album aimed at the US market which, despite its musical excellence, failed to hit its target. 'I got a deal in America with Caroline Records,' Snowy explains, 'but the guy who signed me left.' Japan, Germany and Holland all enjoyed the release...and Snowy gladly kept the advance!
America's loss is our gain, as Floyd axeman Dave Gilmour shows with some notable playing on 'Love, Pain & Sorrow'. 'They were recording "The Division Bell" in the studio,' says Snowy, 'so I took the tape up there and we just ran it through a few times.' Perfectionist Snowy has other reasons to wear a satisfied smile here. 'I think my vocals are coming good on that and I'm quite pleased with the lyrics.' Gary Moore, his Thin Lizzy predecessor and another Peter Green fan, also guested on the 'Highway To The Sun' album. When Snowy was cutting the title track, he turned once again to Alexander Graham Bell's invention to make an introduction but this time the guitarist he was calling, Chris Rea, was well aware of who he was, having admired Snowy's playing for many years. 'He was on tour in Germany. I phoned his hotel about three o'clock in the afternoon and woke him up, which wasn't a very good start! But he was very friendly. I said it would be great to have some slide on this track, so I went up the studio where he was about two weeks later and he put the guitar down.'
That love of playing live of course, continues to this day. 'I've been doing a few gigs with Mick Taylor from the Rolling Stones,' Snowy said in 1995, 'just a little blues package really. We did Serbia, Belgrade. It was great, they all came to see Mick really but I enjoy it because I don't have the hassle of arranging anything. I go on and do three or four songs of my own, then Mick comes on and plays quite a bit and I do another song and Mick plays a bit and we wind it up. It keeps me in trim and I enjoy the travelling and gigs. '
Modest to the last, it's hard to see Snowy White stopping for anyone as long as he has strength left to play his beloved Gold Top. His next album, 'No Faith Required', features not only old faithful Kuma Harada but two Dutchmen in their late 20s/early 30s he met while jamming informally: drummer Juan Van Emmerloot and bassist Walter Latupeirissa. 'Those two, along with Kuma, are a line-up that I hope will become permanent. I'm really excited about it, it's developing into more of a band thing.'
All three feature on 'The Time Has Come', Kuma on rhythm guitar. The newcomers are 'young enough to be enthusiastic but old enough to be sensible: they're real musicians, they like playing, they're very keen to be on the road as much as I am!' To borrow an Al Stewart album title, that just about sums up Snowy White's past, present and future...
With thanks to Steve O'Rourke, Steve Chapman, Bruce White.
Snowy White Fan Club -
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