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More than just a surrogate guitarist, John Roth played a major role in the realization of Giant’s new full-length, Promise Land, released March 9. Roth co-wrote three songs on the record: “I’ll Wait for You,” “Complicated Man” and “Dying to See You,” and worked with his predecessor, Huff, who co-wrote half of the album.
Inspired by the gritty licks of Jeff Beck, Billy Gibbons and Jimi Hendrix, Roth’s playing combines elements of old-school funk, blues-rock, fusion and soul, with arena rock-style charisma. After years playing in Winger (along with work with Survivor and Black Oak Arkansas), Roth got the call to come into the studio and lay down guitar tracks with Giant. He chatted with Premier Guitar about getting that call, his early inspirations, and the creative process behind the new Giant album.
Who inspired you to pick up the guitar?
It was KISS, actually. I was just a kid, and I was into comic books, so the guys in KISS were like super heroes to me. Not long after that, I discovered Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, ZZ Top and all these other bands, but KISS was really the band that got me playing guitar.
Who are some of your all-time favorite players?
Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, Jeff Beck and, of course, Jimi Hendrix. Also Neal Schon from Journey, Eddie Van Halen and a slew of other guys from different styles. There are just a ton of them. But my top three favorite players are Jeff Beck, Billy Gibbons and Jimi Hendrix.
Did you study guitar?
I’m pretty much self-taught. My cousin got me playing at first, but I’ve relied on my ear to get through my career. I teach guitar, so I’ve actually gone back and done a lot of studying on my own. But mostly, I’ve picked up a lot of things from working with talented people. Kip Winger is an amazing musician, and he’s very well-studied, so I’ve learned music theory down the line from guys like that, and just from playing a lot.
That’s great you teach. Where?
I teach at a music store called Crossroads Music, right on the border of Mississippi and Memphis. I have about 22 students a week when I’m not touring with Winger or recording. I’ve been doing it for four years, and it’s great for my guitar playing and getting into music theory. I really enjoy teaching, and I have a couple of students who blow my mind.
What was your first guitar?
I’m pretty sure it was a cheap Tiesco Del Ray. My mom bought it for me from Herald’s Everything Store where I grew up in Arkansas. They had everything from guitars to lawn mowers. [laughs] I think Eddie Van Halen actually played a Tiesco for one of his first guitars.
My first good guitar was a Gibson Marauder. Keep in mind I started playing when I was 10, so I had no money and my mom bought my first couple of guitars. But it was a good guitar. I’ve still got it. I actually had someone cover it in snakeskin because it was so ugly. [laughs] It was a brown wood-grain finish, and it had a maple neck, which is weird for a Gibson. It had a single coil in the bridge and a double in the neck.
Let’s talk about Giant. How did you land the gig?
Mike Brignardello, the bass player, called me about this time last year. I knew of Giant, because I had Giant’s first record and I had seen the band live. I was a fan back in the day. I knew of Mike, because he’s a pretty famous session bass player in Nashville. So he called me, and I guess he was referred to me by Greg Morrow, who’s a big session drummer in Nashville.
Also, Frontiers Records, the label putting out the record, wanted to make sure whoever played guitar and sang in Giant—since Dann Huff was also the singer—had played in a national act before. I’ve played with Winger, and still do, and I had toured with Survivor, so I had a track record. All of that led to me getting the gig.
Are you pumped?
Yeah—I’m totally excited and jazzed to be playing in Giant. I’m so excited to step into Dann Huff’s shoes, because Dan’s an incredible guitar player, and he’s got an incredible reputation as a studio player and producer for Keith Urban and Rascal Flatts and a ton of artists in Nashville. Being called in to take the place of a guitar player like Dann and then getting the gig is an honor.
What’s the biggest challenge of playing guitar in Giant?
The biggest challenge is getting all the different sounds to lay into the mix. With Dann’s approach, the guitars in Giant were very layered. There are clean guitar sounds; there are jangly guitar sounds that have a little bit of chorus on them; there are big, wallowed distorted rhythms. The biggest challenge is getting all those little parts to lay in there right and not step onto each other.
Another thing is that you’re always trying to support the vocals when doing your guitar overdub. So I always keep in mind where the vocal melody is going and try to compliment what the vocals are doing and add some other cool things other than basic rhythms and solos. Plus, keeping it all in tune, because when you add a lot of guitars, you’re going to run into some tuning problems. So those are all big challenges.