There was a time when if you wanted to
be a professional guitarist, your choices were fairly
clear: You could be a session player, toiling behind
the scenes and leaving the spotlight to others; you
could be a road dog, touring the world as a band
member or a hired gun, closer to the spotlight but
still in a supportive role; or you could be the center
of attention, either as a singer/songwriter or as a billion-
note guitar superstar. But things have changed.
The music biz ain’t what it used to be, and if you
want to survive in the new 6-string world order, you
need to adapt. You need to multi-task. That’s where
Justin Derrico comes in.
Derrico, as much as any young guitar slinger on
the scene, knows what it takes to get over in today’s
musical environment. Whether by default or by design,
he embodies a new business model for aspiring
guitarists. The prerequisites include chops and
theory in a wide variety of styles, an encyclopedic
knowledge of tones, the capacity to commit
to memory hundreds of tunes in a short
period of time, the willingness to work in
any audio and visual media, and the ability
to do it all with affability, charisma,
and humor. So far, Derrico has parlayed
his massive rock chops and GIT education
into high-profile sideman work with Pink
(check him out on her Funhouse Tour—Live
in Australia DVD for state-of-the-art poprock
guitar). That facilitated the making
of his kick-ass solo record, Boldly Going
Nowhere, and the accompanying tour for
that record in Pink-friendly Australia. (The
record is a great showcase of Derrico’s
strong songwriting talents, big tones, and
outrageous note choices that lurch effortlessly
between rock dude pentatonics and
outer-space weirdness.) The Pink gig also
led to his current full-time job, guitarist on
the hit TV show The Voice, where he has to
keep more than 100 tunes in his head and
be ready to transpose them on the fly. It’s
an insane schedule, to be sure, but there
is always a method to Derrico’s madness,
in both his work and his music. “I’m naturally
drawn to lines that are a little quirky
and strange,” he says. “But what makes you
sound like you know what you’re doing is
how you phrase it and where you land. I
like to go outside, but I’m always looking
for a cool place to land.”
You went to GIT, you’ve played successful sideman
gigs, and now you’re on a hit TV show. Did you plan
that career path or just sort of fall into it?
Growing up listening to Jimi Hendrix
and Stevie Ray Vaughan, I wanted to be a
guitar hero like them, but I don’t sing—
that’s one thing that sort of held me back
from that [laughs]. But I never thought I’d
be a touring or session musician. I just
loved to play. I went to GIT for about six
months, and being there helped me connect.
Then I got the gig with the Calling
and toured with them. After that came a gig
with Robin Thicke, and then came Pink. It’s
been full-on, non-stop ever since.
What was your audition like for the Pink
There were three songs I had to learn. I
went in and played with Pink and her band.
She and I just kind of hit it off. We played
“Who Knew,” and she wanted somebody
who could solo, so they had me solo over the
chorus and she liked that. I also managed to
capture the sound of her tunes, which was
a big thing because she uses guitar to pitch
off of quite a bit. As soon as I started playing,
the drummer said, “That’s the sound!
That’s the sound!” Then we played “Dear
Mr. President,” and that’s a really important
song to her. Instead of playing the parts
exactly like the record, she was more interested
in somebody that would follow her. I
didn’t know that, but I sort of felt that, so
that’s what I did and it worked out. They
hired me on the spot. They said, “See you
in a week in Budapest.” I had to learn 27
songs really quickly and started rehearsing
with the band while she was off doing
promo. The first time I played with her,
other than the audition, was in Budapest
in front of 125,000 people.
The guitar parts on Pink records were recorded
by many different guitarists. What kind of rig do
you need to nail all those tones?
I’ve just been using a Bogner Shiva.
The cool thing about the Shiva is it’s an
amp that really translates the character of
whatever guitar you put in front of it. Strats
sound like Strats, Les Pauls sound like Les
Pauls. I’ve got some pedals, and some go in
the front end like my Crybaby wah, Xotic
Effects BB preamp, and Electro-Harmonix
POG. My Boss CE-2 Chorus pedal, DD-20
Giga Delay, and a Line 6 M9 go in the loop.
I run one volume pedal in the loop and one
in front of the amp. When I go to do the
stuff live, I sit down at my board and try to
dial in the tones as close as I can. I know
I’m not 100 percent, but I get pretty darn
close where it fools most people. I also use
a variety of guitars. For instance, for “Glitter
in the Air,” I play a Brent Mason Tele
with a touch of reverb and a clean tone. I
could tell on the record it was a single-coil
guitar and on the Mason Tele you can blend
in the middle single-coil. So I went with a
mixture of the neck mini-humbucker and
the middle pickup.
Pink is such a great singer. Do you feel like
she’s influenced your guitar playing at all?
Absolutely, especially rhythmically—the
way she phrases things. Melodically too. I’ll
hear her do a run and I’ll try to figure it out
on guitar. She’s really soulful.
Let’s get into your solo record. A lot of the
tunes seem like rock songs but then they’ll have
crazy syncopations, end-of-the world drumming,
and really strange note choices. Do you consciously
try to avoid stuff that sounds too normal, or does
that come naturally to you?
Most of it is pretty natural. There might
have been a few things that I deliberately
tweaked, like the odd-time riff to “Boldly
Going Nowhere.” When I came up with
it, it was in 4/4, and it wasn’t really grooving
like I wanted it to. When my producer,
Corey Britz, suggested I put it in 7, for some
reason it just magically grooved a lot harder.
Note choice wise, that’s just what I’m hearing
for the most part. I like playing weird,
out stuff. I don’t really get a chance to do
that on pop gigs and rock gigs, where I play
more straightforward, pentatonic lines. But
since I had a chance to express myself, I
wanted to go out there a little bit.
At 0:30 in “Goodnight Nurse,” you play a calland-
response line that starts out pentatonic and
then gets outside and angular for the answers.
Can you explain what’s going on there?
I’m playing E melodic minor, doing two
notes per string and skipping strings. So,
I’m thinking of it like you would think of a
pentatonic scale in terms of the shape. It’s
sort of a Scott Henderson thing, although I
don’t know if he exactly does that, but he
does things like that with diminished scales
and string skipping. I think what catches
your ear with this line is that it’s melodic
minor and only two notes per string, as
opposed to three notes per string, which
is more common.
At about 2:18 in “Technically No” you throw
in some pretty big interval skips after the
That’s sort of a diminished thing I’m
doing. I’m using hybrid picking and big
stretches. It’s like a three note per string
diminished lick and I’m going down the
scale in a weird way. It’s the same pattern
all the way down so it’s a symmetrical lick
that adds up to some wacky intervals. A lot
of that stuff I do is more shape oriented. It
kind of goes back to the Eddie Van Halen
thing of using shapes rather than scales to
get from point A to point B. I didn’t really
try to learn his licks, but more like his ability
to use cool-sounding shapes to get from
one place to the next. I think that’s where
some of my phrasing comes from.
You’ve mentioned Hendrix, SRV, and Van
Halen. Who are some other players who have
informed your style?
Brent Mason has been a big-time influence
on me for chops and note choices on
the country side of things, and even for jazz.
Brent is where my hybrid picking came from.
Scott Henderson’s been an influence, especially
on the outside aspect of my playing.
He plays some harmonically in-depth, crazy
stuff. I love Bela Fleck. One of my favorite
records to listen to is Live Art. But I think my
vibrato is a byproduct of listening to Hendrix
and Stevie Ray Vaughan. I was a huge,
huge Stevie Ray Vaughan fanatic when I
started playing. I thought he was the greatest
guitar player. I still think he’s the greatest,
even though I play nothing like him. I tried
to play like him but I never could [laughs].
How did your day-to-day change when you got
your gig on The Voice?
My day-to-day changed drastically because
there are pretty much no days off. Saturdays
are technically a day off but we spend Saturdays
learning tons of tunes. We had to learn
110 tunes in ten days when we started. Just
about every day we’re learning songs. It’s a
lot of fun because the band is slamming. The
other guitar player in the band, Dave Barry,
plays with Cher and was Janet Jackson’s MD
for a while. He’s just an awesome, kick-ass
It doesn’t look like you guys are reading
charts up there. How do you keep all those tunes
in your head?
I don’t know, to be honest with you.
I memorize everything because I’m not a
good reader at all. It’s gotten to the point
now, since we learn so quickly, that sometimes
we have to learn songs right there on
the spot—we hear the song once and we’re
playing it. It’s pretty crazy.
What does the next six months or year look
like for you?
Pretty crazy! When the show wraps, I
start rehearsing with my band. I rehearse
for two weeks, then I go to Australia for a
week of promo, and then start the tour for
my solo record. I’m doing a bunch of clinics
at music shops in Australia as well as
nine or ten shows. I’ll pretty much be gone
for the entire month. After I get back from
Australia I’ve got maybe a week or two off
and then we start back up with the second
season of The Voice. And I haven’t heard any
plans yet, but I’m assuming Pink will probably
be wanting to go on tour probably some
time next year. It’s like a nonstop musical