Sometime in the mid ’70s, Roger Waters, the leader of the progressive
rock band Pink Floyd, began to feel a wall developing
between the group and its stadium audiences—who were
increasingly rowdy and beer-swilling, and seemingly indifferent to the
music. This sense of alienation served as the inspiration for Floyd’s epic
1979 double album, The Wall
—a rock opera that also addressed some
of the other difficult personalities in Waters’ life, including abusive
schoolteachers (“Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2”) and an overprotective
parent (“Mother”), among others.
Despite its derisive tone, The Wall
earned Pink Floyd even larger audiences.
A decade after the album was released, more than a quarter of a million
fans saw a live concert of the album in its entirety in Germany as Waters
and guests like Cyndi Lauper, Van Morrison, and Joni Mitchell celebrated
the fall of the Berlin Wall. Now, 20 years after that historic concert, and
30 years after the album was released, Waters has embarked on an
ambitious worldwide tour: The Wall Live
is playing before packed houses
from Toronto to Manchester, England, until June 2011. The mammoth tour
features some killer guitarists: former Saturday Night Live
Smith, Dave Kilminster (known for his work with legendary keyboardist Keith
Emerson), and Snowy White, a British instrumentalist steeped in the blues.
White, now 62, got his start as a professional guitarist in early 1970s
London. Thanks to his tasteful playing—and to being an affable bloke
in general—he made a name for himself on the UK scene without great
difficulty. White’s first big gig was a stint as an auxiliary live guitarist for
Pink Floyd in the late 1970s, followed in the early ’80s by a slot in the
rock band Thin Lizzy.
Since then, White, a consummate pro, has had an enviable career.
As a solo artist, he scored a major hit with the 1984 single “Bird of
Paradise” from the album White Flames
, which is also the name of
the band he’s long fronted. At the same time, White has regrouped
periodically with Waters for the 1990 Berlin performance of The
and for Waters’ 2000 In the Flesh
tour, among other occasions.
Meanwhile, the Snowy White Blues Project finds White in a more
straightforward bluesman mode. “I’m lucky, really—I’ve got both
worlds here,” he says.
We met up with White in the lobby of a swanky hotel in Manhattan’s
SoHo district—which is, appropriately enough, a neighborhood rife
with guitar history—to talk about everything from the Wall tour to his
How’d you get into the blues?
“I’m not precious about it,” White says of the ’57 goldtop Les Paul he’s relied on for the last 41
years. It’s been rewired and refretted, and the bridge and tuners have been switched out when necessary, but
its checked and battered finish bears the battle scars of innumerable gigs. Photo by Snowy White
When I was about 10 years old, I got a guitar
from my parents as a birthday present and I
learned to play it. Then, in my teens, I heard
some blues on the radio and realized that’s
the thing I wanted most to play—I wanted to
know what it felt like to play those licks and
phrases. I didn’t have any lessons or anything.
I just sort of worked things out for myself
over the years. I didn’t start playing the guitar
to become rich and famous—which is good,
because I haven’t
become rich and famous.
What’s the story behind the goldtop Les
Paul that has been with you throughout your
When I was 18 I met a Swedish girl, so I went
to Sweden, because that’s the sort of thing you
do when you’re younger—you go where the
girlfriend is. I got in a band there—a trio called
the Train—and the drummer knew somebody
who had a Les Paul for sale. I didn’t know anything
about guitars at all—and I still don’t—but
I wanted a Les Paul. I had a Stratocaster, which
I didn’t like, and I swapped it for the Les Paul—
an all-original 1957 goldtop. That was in 1969.
I’ve had the guitar for 41 years.
Is it still 100 percent original?
It’s a working guitar, and I’m not precious
about it, so I’ve changed things when they
needed changing. It’s had different machine
heads. It’s been rewired. It’s been refretted
a couple of times. And it’s got a different
bridge, which I put on because [Fleetwood
Mac founder] Peter Green gave it to me, even
though it was identical to the original bridge.
It’s a fantastic guitar, really true in the neck
and fingerboard after all these years—and it
sings on every fret just as it should. It’s just
Since then you’ve branched out a bit from
the Les Paul. What are some of the other
guitars in your arsenal?
Snowy White has relied on this beautifully battered 1957 goldtop Les Paul
since he was 18 years old. Photo by Sean Evans
For about 30 years, my Les Paul was my only
guitar, and I never wanted another one. But
since I’ve been doing other things, like with
Roger Waters, I’ve needed a few guitars. I
bought a Strat, which is similar to the black
Stratocaster David Gilmour has—I figured I
would use that for a couple of songs to get
the appropriate sound. And on the last tour
for Dark Side of the Moon
bought a ’57 Les Paul reissue, which felt exactly
the same as my old one. I put a tremolo arm
on it, because I needed to do a few tremolo
bits. I also got an ES-345 from Gibson, which
is a really great semi-hollowbody. And I’ve got
a Martin acoustic, a D-28 that came straight
from the factory—they found a nice one for
me. So I have bought some guitars I only use
when I’m playing with other people. When I’m
doing my thing, I just use my Les Paul.
What amps do you prefer?
I used to use a Fender Twin Reverb, but for
many years all I’ve used is the Vox AC30. I
switched to Vox because it was more complimentary
to the sound of my Les Paul. With
Roger, even on big stages, I use an AC30. I’ve
got two, and I kick the second one in only for