Derringer arranges all-star reunion on Saturday
This might be an unprecedented rock ‘n’ roll occurrence: A band has reunited and now can be considered a supergroup.
Derringer had a good ” but brief ” run in the late ’70s with two successful studio albums. Rick Derringer had already achieved greatness before he put the band together. After the band split up, each member went on to achieve his own greatness.
“I just think Rick knows a good thing and a good musician, so it wasn’t coincidental that we all went on to other bigger bands,” guitarist Danny Johnson said. “I would also say it doesn’t hurt to have Rick Derringer on your resume as a starting point.”
After leaving Derringer, Johnson played for some of the biggest bands in the business, such as Alcatrazz and most recently Steppenwolf, as well as with Alice Cooper and Rod Stewart.
The resume of Derringer’s rhythm section is equally impressive: Drummer Vinny Appice joined Black Sabbath and is in its offshoot Heaven and Hell, with Ronnie James Dio. Bassist Kenny Aaronson has been with Mick Taylor, Billy Idol, Joan Jett, Dave Edmunds, Brian Setzer, and Lake Tahoe Action rival Rolling Stone named him 1988’s bass player of the year for his work with Bob Dylan. Aaronson now plays with John Eddie.
Wikipedia defines a supergroup as a band whose members have already achieved fame or respect in other groups: “Supergroups tend to be short-lived, often lasting only for an album or two, perhaps because of the natural conflict of egos between established stars.”
Johnson and Appice left Derringer to resurrect Axis.
“I think if we would have stayed together, we would have been a lot more successful than we were,” Appice said. “Me and Danny were young, and we thought we could put Axis together and do the same thing (we did with Derringer) and build ourselves up. We thought that was the better move.”
But after just one album, Axis was finished.
Johnson explained why Derringer split up.
“Our original manager, Steve Paul, said there’s three things that can break up a band: women, songwriting or drugs,” he sad. “In our case it was all of those things.”
Aaronson said the reunion was difficult to arrange because everybody is working with their own bands.
“I was first contacted over a year ago,” Aaronson said. “It was a matter of getting everybody to free up form their normal schedules. We rehearsed for three days, and it was first time we’ve been together in 33 years. But it was kind of like riding a bike. You really don’t forget.”
Although it’s dubbed a Derringer reunion tour, the band is only playing a handful of shows. It has performed five times, including a show at B.B. King’s Blues Club that the quartet recorded for a potential DVD. Derringer will also perform at the Sweden Rock Festival ” whichever of the recording the band deems better will be used for an album, “Derringer Live 2008.”
The Derringer reunion initially was to just be two or three shows.
“We set out to do a date in Sweden and a couple of big-money dates,” Johnson said. “Usually, bands beg for gigs. The more we try to stop it, the more offers come in.”
The offer from Harrah’s Lake Tahoe was happenstance.
John Packer, the casino’s director of entertainment, was speaking with Paramour Group President Dean Swett about another matter when Swett mentioned he had the band Derringer.
“You mean Rick Derringer,” Packer recalled saying. He said, ‘No this is the original.’ I said I’d love to have them. I’m a big fan of all of those guys.”
Packer knew about Rick Derringer since he was a student at Ohio State in 1965, year the Buckeyes marching band started playing Derringer’s song “Hang on Sloopy” with his band the McCoys.
Rick Derringer went on to play with and produce albums for Johnny and Edgar Winter. He wrote the Johnny Winter hits “Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo” and “Still Alive and Well.” He formed Derringer in 1976.
Aaronson played with a group called Stories, which had a No. 1 pop single in 1973, “Brother Louie.”
“Rick told me that’s where he first heard me,” Aaronson said. “That’s apparently how he decided he wanted me for Derringer.”
Vinny Appice is the younger brother of Carmine Appice, who plays with Vanilla Fudge and Cactus.
“I saw the equipment and the guys playing with my brother and I thought ‘This is really cool,'” Vinny Appice said. “When I started playing drums, I really took it seriously because Carmine’s my brother, and I thought ‘If I suck it’s not going to be good.’ “
Vinny Appice became so good, in fact, he did some studio work with John Lennon in New York. That was when he met Rick Derringer, who said he was interested in having him join his band. Six months later, Derringer traveled to Louisiana to see Axis. Derringer hired both Appice and Johnson.
“It was pre-MTV, pre-laptop, there were no cell phones, and it was even pre-rehab,” Johnson said. “Actually I don’t think we have any members who have been to rehab, and we all still have our hair.”
Johnson and Derringer give the band a “twin guitar” sound in the style of Wishbone Ash and the Allman Brothers’ Duane Allman and Dickey Betts.
“Usually (a band has) a lead and rhythm player, but we do a lot of harmonies,” Johnson said. “We’re very conscious of interplay and harmony. It’s a harmonious team effort rather than a competitive sport.”
When Johnson left with Appice to re-form Axis, Mark Cunningham was brought in as guitarist. Rick Derringer and Cunningham used to play catch with their guitars during shows, but Johnson won’t be doing any guitar tossing at the Tahoe show.
“I have a 1956 Les Paul, and I don’t care how good a catch you are, I’m not going to throw that across the stage,” he said.
Appice appreciates how unusual it is for the foursome to be back together.
“Everyone should come down because this might be just the one off,” he said. “We might just do a couple of dates throughout the year and that might be it. This will be something to see because it brings back some of the roots of rock.”