In the Red Zone: Vinnie Moore Scores with Two New Releases

From his seat on the bus that carried him, Craig Goldy, and Uli Jon Roth to their next tour stop, Vinnie Moore sounded upbeat and enthused, if maybe a little road weary.
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From his seat on the bus that carried him, Craig Goldy, and Uli Jon Roth to their next tour stop, Vinnie Moore sounded upbeat and enthused, if maybe a little road weary. You can’t fault the guy for being a little tired—he works hard. From his many solo albums to his decade-plus tenure in UFO to his new band, Red Zone Rider, a trio with bassist/vocalist Kelly Keeling and drummer Scot Coogan, he’s always got something going on. And everything that Moore throws himself into features his astounding 6-string abilities. Far from being a mere “shredder,” Moore combines insane technique with touch, taste, and stylistic influences that include Van Halen, Jeff Beck, Duane Allman, Larry Carlton, and many other diverse talents. He can play sweep-picked arpeggios with a bluesy feel or play blues licks at neo-classical speeds, never sacrificing tone, time, or intonation. It’s a unique and musical skill set. Moore talked about his latest releases, Red Zone Rider’s Magna Carta debut and the upcoming UFO album, A Conspiracy of Stars [SPV/Steamhammer], as well as what he does when the creative muse hits him.

Let’s begin with the Red Zone Rider record. Talk a little bit about how that band came to be.

Well, I had known Kelly for a long time and thought he was a great singer, and he had been in the back of my mind as far as somebody I’d like to work with one day. I started to put these vocal songs together, but they didn’t really fit into UFO or any of the other things I was involved with. I wanted to find a singer and basically form a new band to do those things that were a little different. I heard that Kelly was looking to put a band together and talking to Magna Carta Records, which is a label that I’m also familiar with, so the timing was perfect. I said, “Let’s do it together,” and we started to talk about what we wanted the record to be like stylistically. I spent about two weeks throwing down a bunch of song ideas and then we met in Vegas. We would go through tunes, learn them, and then jam as a band. We worked the arrangements, polished it all up, and then recorded it.

What was the recording process like?

All three of us played together as we recorded. For the most part we were just trying to get good, solid drum tracks, but we got a few bass tracks, and even a solo ended up on the record from the very first jams. Kelly overdubbed a lot of his basses and I did rhythms there at the studio. Then I went home to do solos.

This record opens with you playing slide. Talk about that part—what kind of slide you’re using, what the tuning is, and how you view your slide playing in general.

The part, when I originally wrote it, was just me fretting chords. There was no slide and it was just an open E up to a barre chord G and a sliding after that. It had a cool vibe, but I thought it would be better if I used a slide to do it. I have a slide guitar in my basement that’s set up already with high action, and I just went with that one again. I tuned it to E and used a little light glass slide—not a Coricidin bottle, but it’s kind of close to that.

How much slide playing do you do?

It’s something that I’m doing more and more over the last few years, because on my last solo record I had a song where the whole melody was carried by slide. But it’s not the type of thing where you can put it down for a while and come back and still have your chops. You have to stay on it or you lose it. I still don’t practice quite as much as I need to, but I have enough technique that I have something to start with.

There’s a very nice blending of tones on the intro to the song “House of Light.” Can you describe what’s going on there?

I have like a half-distorted guitar sound where I’m playing some octave figures, and cleaner sounds where I’m throwing chords over the top of it, like color tones. I’m using two or three different guitar sounds to make up one sound collectively.

How did you get the brilliant, sparkly clean tone?

I probably sucked out a lot of the low end and maybe boosted some of the frequencies around 3k. The guitars I used on the record were my signature Dean Vinman 2000s. I don’t think my Les Paul made it on that one. It might have for a solo or something. I have a couple of Strats that have a real clear tone, so sometimes for thinner things I’ll use that. Man, I should write all this stuff down, but I just kind of pick up things and whatever works at that particular time works, and then I keep moving on.

Did you have a go-to amplifier for this record?

Yeah. I’ve been using my Marshall that was made in 1980. It’s a JMP Mark II 100-watt, and for some reason that thing sat around for about 15 years untouched. At one point I thought I would try it, and it works great with various overdrive pedals in front of it. It gets a nice crunchy sound on its own, but it doesn’t sing enough for leads, so I hit the input a little bit harder with a DOD 250, Xotic Effects AC Boost, or an Analog Man-modified Tube Screamer. I can get a lot of tones just by using different pedals in front of it. There’s a lot of flexibility.

What was the writing and recording process for the new UFO record?

We wrote some stuff initially and we had this big plan that we were going to get together again over in Germany for a week and rehearse, sort through ideas, and put things together, but we didn’t get a whole hell of a lot done—just a couple of tunes and ideas. Then we went home, and it was afterward that I had this big creative writing spurt. I was writing two or three ideas a day. Within a week or so, I had about 12 new songs fully structured. We got together again in England to rehearse those songs and a few others. We went right from there to the studio and just started laying down the basic tracks. It was me, Rob [De Luca] on bass, and Andy [Parker] on drums playing together. Again, our main goal was to get good drum and bass tracks. Then I did what I pretty much always do, which is take those tracks and do all my guitars at home.

Do you have any idea what spurred this creative time that you went through?

I have no idea. This sort of thing happens to me a lot. I’ll just get in the zone and I really don’t know how. When that happens, I know I have to be there, work hard, and capture everything as it’s coming out.

Do you have a favorite guitar solo on this record?

That’s always a hard one for me. I think I like some of the bits I did in “Precious Cargo.” Some of my Jeff Beck influences are coming out in there—the quirky bends he does. That guy screwed me up forever a long time ago [laughs].

What kind of stuff inspires you about the other players who are on this tour?

Craig’s been playing a lot of cover tunes by Ritchie Blackmore and he’s nailing them. I’m hearing those Ritchie licks again and going, “Oh wow, man! how do you do that?” That’s definitely inspirational. And then Uli’s doing his thing, so melodic and such great tone. He’s got the classical thing and the Hendrix-y kinds of things also.

Are there technical, chops-related things that you strive for these days? Or do you feel like you have all the technique you need to be able to play anything you hear in your head?

I don’t think I have the chops to play everything I hear in my head by any means. That would almost be impossible. But I feel like I have enough chops to express what I want to express pretty successfully. I think my chops back in the early days were a lot better. I had better technique, but I’m a way better player now. That’s because I’m more musical. More inspiration is coming out and I’m just more mature, and that has made me a better player overall. I feel so fortunate to be able to do what I love and have some people out there who like it enough to let me continue doing it.

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