The Bailey Brothers had a lengthy chat with Dave Meniketti, the vocalist/guitarist of the legendary US hard rock band Y&T!
How did you get into rock music?
What turned me on initially was listening to the music on the radio. Everything was new at that time; it was what a lot of people called the British invasion in the 60’s. You had the Who and Led Zeppelin, bands like that.
Did Led Zeppelin influence you?
Yeah they did cause listening to their first record, it had a couple of bluesy numbers on it; you know they were trying to do their spin on a blues song. I loved the blues anyway and to hear somebody playing it with this heavy tone and everything, it came across in a different way.
Can you remember how old you were when you first started playing guitar?
I started late actually- I started at 16. Most people start much earlier than that... I had a paper round that I was doing so I saved up and bought my own guitar. It was a Stratocaster copy.
You are a self taught guitar player. Do you think self taught players are equal to those taught by professional guitar teachers?
I think it depends on what type of music you’re playing; I don’t think it really matters with Rock N Roll if you are taught or self taught. To me its all about expression anyway, it’s about passion it’s about playing through from your soul. That kind of stuff comes from within whether you’re self taught or not and it transpires on the guitar neck. So whether you know your way around the guitar neck because you were taught or played it all day long didn’t really matter.
You are renowned for your melodic and soulful guitar solos, how do you go about constructing a solo do you ever come up with the lead melody first or always come up with the rhythm section?
It all comes off the rhythm section and for years people have asked me if I work all my solo’s out for records, things like that, and I never have. I think the only time we have is when we are going to do a structured part like a harmony part or something like that.
I would just run through things in rehearsal and if I liked a certain groove I would sort of remember that and I would use that in the studio as a place to start from. I would just do take after take until I came up with something on the spot. That’s just the way I am, I don’t like to pre-condition a solo because I feel if I’m going to record it on the record I want it to be from me right then on the spot.
Do you feel by being a vocalist it helps you be a melodic player and also helps you structure your solos with the phrasing?
Very much so. It took me a while to figure that out but it does help. At first I was just a wild guitar player. You know at that time I was wild before the Van Halen’s because when I started out there weren’t that many guys playing fast and doing all the kind of stuff I was doing. When we got with our management they had two bands, us and Journey so me and Neil Schon used to hang out a lot and Neil taught me a lot from his melodic side of things.
Any guitar player will tell you it's pretty difficult to sing and play. When did you first know you were going to do the vocals as well?
Originally everyone in the band was going to sing. It was just going to be like the Beatles or something and it did start off like that when we were doing the cover tunes. Then when we started to write the original material I sang a couple of tunes, Phil sang a couple and a couple of tunes Leonard sang so we just split it around. Then when we got more and more songs it was like, “I can’t quite sing the melody on this one. Maybe Dave should sing this one - he’s got a higher voice”. It just started to become a more natural thing for me to be singing more often. It was tough at first but because I set out doing it from the start I got used to it. There are still some that are tough. We come up with things that have a different beat and the melody goes against the beat or something. I have to really practice to get it down.
Do you have to simplify things to make it fit?
Well at first I wasn’t doing that I wasn’t being smart I should have just given the cool part to the other guy and said, “look you do that because it’s going to be tough for me to do it and sing at the same time.” I would play it instrumentally with the band over and over until it was so second nature that when I started to sing my hands just figured it out.
Do you sometimes wish you could do one or the other?
Sometimes and I do with a few songs live where I just lead sing or at least a portion of the song, Ballroom Boogie I lead sing, a portion of Winds Of Change - the intro part and it feels good to just do that every once in a while but I feel more at home when I’m doing both to be honest.
Speaking of guitars you must have a great guitar collection what are your favourite guitars to play and do you bring them out live?
I just bring two guitars out live simply because we rent gear when we are touring around the country and it’s just too hard to bring more than two guitars, it really is. I have this latest Les Paul style guitar a friend has made for me, I have my Les Paul, and then pretty much everything after that is a Fender Strat style. I have a Kramer Burette and I still love the way that plays just with a single pick up and I have four strats and I’m not known for being a Strat player. I’m using the Eric Clapton electronics with the one I’m playing at the moment but I don’t like the gain control. It muddies everything up. Every once in a while I will notch it up to about 2 just for a bit of extra crunch.
I actually started with a Fender Strat copy but my first real guitar was a 1962 Fender Stratocaster which I should have never sold. It was an absolute classic. I sold it for about 170 bucks.
One of our all time favourite Y&T songs is I Believe In You. Can you tell us how this song was born?
It’s a song I wrote along time ago. Well along time before it got put on a record, which is kind of a drag in a way because our original managers ripped us off for our publishing the first two Yesterday and Today records. We haven’t received a penny publishing to this day from those two records. I wrote I Believe in You about the time they were managing us so when I put it on the Earthshaker record well after they were gone they still took my publishing and never gave me a cent for I Believe In You Anyway it was written a long time ago about a break up that I had with a long time relationship I had with a girl so the song inspired itself more or less.
Black Tiger -
How did you come up with that title cause they ain’t that many in Oakland for sure?
Well a lot of times we come up with titles for songs mostly from me singing my nonsense words to try and come up with a melody line. It will either just come out of my mouth inevitably, you know off the top of my head, not even because I was trying to think of it just because it was a sound that seemed would go well with this melody line I was hearing in my head as it was coming along Or it would come after we laid a rhythm pattern down. Some one would say, “Hey man that sounds sexy”, like a Dirty Girl or something like that. Sometimes you just put a lyric down to go with the feel of the phrasing or the feel of the song had. But the majority of the titles come from me singing something like (burst into nonsense song melody) and then Phil would say did you just say? And I would go I don’t know what I said. He would say, “well it was cool, let's use that.”
One thing I want to mention is, and it didn’t start out this way, I ended up being the singer because it just gravitated towards me but a lot of the lyrics I would sit down with Phil and Leonard and we would all collaborate. Little by little Phil started being really clever in the way he put lyrics to a melody. He just had a way of saying things and putting it on paper. It just took us a lot longer to come up with an idea as clever as Phil’s. He just had a gift at putting pen to paper and making it work so the majority of the lyrics came from him. He would listen to my nonsense ideas and say this sounds like this and that and he would start writing lyrics from there. We come up with song structures to suit with what we want to talk about sometimes also. You just give him some tapes to spend the night with and some booze and a smoke and he comes back the next day with some brilliant lyric that goes with the melodies. We then sit there and fine tune it. Obviously I have to fine tune it as it has to be right for my voice and for the right phrasing and everything.
Let’s talk about a Y&T classic Midnight In Tokyo from the Meanstreak album how did this song come about?
Well that one was inspired from our first trip to Japan and like most bands that go there for the first time we were tripping because it is so different.
It’s the fans and the way the promoter treats the bands when you go over. Its like they are your servants, you step off the plane and there’s like ten guys all wanting to carry your bags and its like, I’m alright I’m used to carrying my own luggage thanks. They treat you like royalty but the fans would come up to you and tell you in great detail how much your song meant to them individually. It would be so passionate “when you did that 2nd lick in the 3rd bar of that song it was amazing.” “And the way you sang that line in this song.” They were telling me the way I was feeling when I wrote it which was weird. They must have really sat there with the head phones on and gotten every last nuance out of the thing. Man that just blew our minds. Live, they wait whilst every note of the song is ended, then a great roar and then totally silent. Nobody yelling in between, just absolutely silent. Even in break downs in the songs where you let the fans join in, again silent. They want to hear every single note and to the very end of the song. They will not react until the song is one hundred percent over. It’s their politeness and love for the music. It’s kind of unnerving at first because you are used to having the reaction from the crowd to play off. Once you got used to it, then it was cool. Anyway I went off on a tangent like I always do (My wife will tell you that) but it was such an experience that when we got back we felt we just had to put it into a song. Alot of things happened also some of the band flew out later as I was doing some tracks or something and there was an earth quake same day they got there and when we were leaving there was a hurricane or typhoon thing going down so that was in the lyrics you know “The ground moved under our feet”.
Let’s now talk about the break up of Y&T. That must have felt like your wife had left you?
It was tough because we had this bad luck following us as far as the business went. The fans were there for us, we were growing as a band but the business people around us who were dealing with our music, whether it was record company people or what ever, we had a bad run with them. It’s a story many rock bands will tell you - that it was a mistake being with this certain record label.
But Geffen was a big label, you were considered in the big league if you signed with them but you were signed probably just a little bit too late?
Yeah as we got in there it was just bad timing, Whitesnake and Guns’N’Roses were on the same label and they took off so fast the label just concentrated on those bands. They were selling millions of albums between them and they killed the "Contagious" album.
Geffen promised to make it up to us and get behind our Ten album. They released the fist single which was "Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark" and we did a video for it and everything. I don’t even know if they played it on MTV - if they did it was minimal. I stayed up to watch when they were supposed to play it and they never did. They released the first single and dropped the whole thing. From that point I just said forget it, that’s it. I just couldn’t handle it. We even discussed it as it was getting released. We said if Geffen let us down lets just call it a day but it happened all so quickly.
David dusted himself down and went down that scary Rock’n’roll highway as a solo artist.
You set up your own home recording studio at this point. Did you also do all the engineering?
I pretty much did most of the engineering.
Didn’t you find that stifled your creativity?
Well I’m a pretty hands on type of guy. At first it was great, like yeah, I can twist all the knobs and the dials and so on but when it came down to all the practical stuff like coming up with licks and ideas I thought, man I wished I had some one here to operate the desk.. I would have to stop and set it up and by that time I didn’t know if I could remember the lick. That just drives me crazy. I set up this system that was really simple where I could just press on a footswitch to put it into record and come up with ideas. These days with hard drive systems you just leave them going.
Have you upgraded to hard drive systems in your studio?
Oh yeah but I got the old stuff too. I got the old 2inch 16 track machine and I got my ADATs in the corner collecting dust over the years. But we do use some analogue and hard drive aswell. I record straight with no pedals and I add the effect after because it’s much cleaner that way.
I ended up using the demos as the stuff for the records. I came up with the songs and started to get some record company interest but my manager at that time (who was also the manager of Y&T) decided we needed a couple more songs so I gave him a couple of songs that I thought were brilliant. He said “I’m not going to give them to the record company. Give me some other ones” I gave him a couple more. He didn’t like them either so he kept stringing me on getting me to come up with some more songs. He should have just given those songs to the record company to see what they thought?
He strung me on for about a year. Then he turned round and said, “you know what? It’s a little too late. The record companies are not thinking about it right now.” I’m like, well thank you very much. Anyway he got us all exited about getting back together. We did those couple of independent records in the mid 90’s then that fell by the way side. Y&T decided not to play anymore so I thought, well I’m going to pick this back up again because I was listening back at those demos and I thought , man this is some great stuff. I wrote a couple of new songs at that point, put it all together, just made a record myself and licensed it to different companies across the world.
Having the internet must be an advantage to offer your fans something direct?
Well yeah along with something else like I Tunes or something.
You put yourself a chat site or a forum on the web and fans can keep in touch with the band. You are hearing what they want.
Last year we spoke about some new Y&T songs, are you going to do some writing again?
The plan is to take January and February off and get in the studio at my place and see what we can come up with.
Y&T recorded a live show in the Netherlands recently. The DVD will be released in late spring/early summer 2007.
There’s also something else you can add to your Christmas list, some Y&T re-mastered goodies.
Earthshaker and In Rock We Trust re-mastered CDs will be here by Christmas! Great liner notes written by the band, bonus track, and the first time ever released domestically on CD for Earthshaker. These CDs will be available only through our web site and at Y&T concerts.
It was such a pleasure to spend some time in the company of a real guitar hero and genuine nice guy Dave Meniketti. Thanks to Phil, John and Mike who stayed out of the dressing room for over an hour so we could do this interview.
It must have seemed like you were waiting FOREVER!
Interview by the Bailey Brothers
Photos by Mick Bailey
21 December 2006