There’s a reason Pink Floyd, Thin Lizzy, and Roger Waters secured the services of Snowy White – his extraordinarily soulful playing. White’s latest solo album, Driving On the 44, is rife with that understated and emotive guitar, revealing deep roots in the British tones of Eric Clapton and Peter Green. We checked in with White to ask about his lifelong infatuation with the blues.
Did you start playing in the Hank Marvin and Bert Weedon era?
I got my first guitar when I was 10, using a largely unplayable acoustic. When I started work at 17, I saved up for an ice-blue Futurama II electric. Looked great, but sounded like rubbish. This was in the early ’60s, when the main thing I was hearing, guitar-wise, were The Shadows and twangy American bands like The Ventures. I did buy Bert Weedons’ Play In A Day guitar book, but he lied to me – 24 hours later, I still couldn’t play a thing.
When did the blues enter your world?
In the U.K. in those days, the only time you could hear anything interesting was a BBC radio program called “Saturday Club.” I was messing about with this newfangled thing my Dad bought – a “tape recorder” – and I happened to catch a session of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers with Clapton sometime in 1965 or ’66. When I heard his guitar licks, I pressed “Record” and I was then able to play that session over and over. Magic! The Bluesbreakers played “Stepping Out” and Eric had a very clean sound I really liked. From then on, that was all I wanted to do. I had no thoughts about playing in a band or getting paid for it – I just wanted to know what it felt like.
Tell us about Peter Green’s influence. You became good friends.
Pete had a very generous spirit, and when I first got to London, he was really kind to me. This was about 1970, around the time he announced that he was leaving Fleetwood Mac. He used to sleep on the sofa in my flat in Putney. One day we drove to my parent’s house on the Isle Of Wight. They thought he was a nice boy, mainly because he helped with the washing up. It was only recently that I realized how slightly surreal that was, because Pete slept in my old bedroom, where I’d spent months listening to records of him, Eric, and B.B. King. After all the success and accolades that were heaped upon him, he just wanted to get back to being a normal guy.
On the new album, “Way Down in the Dark” has such a unique midrange tone in your solo.
That was my PRS, which has been doctored with humbuckers and an out-of phase switch, which is probably what you’re hearing. It was given to me in 1999 by PRS at New York rehearsals for the first Roger Waters tour, as I didn’t get my old goldtop until a couple of weeks later. I use it a lot, as it’s much lighter than my current Les Paul.
Did you use amp simulators, or traditional miked amplifiers?
Nearly all of this album is simulators, both amps and pedals. Normally, I would go to a studio with the band and use proper amps and reverb and chorus pedals, but it’s been difficult with Covid. I started to put down some ideas at home, originally as demos. Somehow we just kept on going and ended with the finished album. Guitar-wise, I just used the PRS.
You sold your famous ’57 goldtop. What made it your number one guitar for so many years?
I was offered the goldtop at a good price when I was in a band in Sweden, and took it not knowing if it was good or not. Luckily, it turned out to be a great guitar, stayed beautifully in tune, and sang out on every fret, even the high ones. We sort of grew into each other over 45 years. I knew exactly how to get what I wanted out of it, and I didn’t need anything else.
What do you recall most fondly about working in Thin Lizzy from 1980 until ’82?
I enjoyed playing Thin Lizzy songs, all the guitar harmonies with Scott Gorham. Some great tunes, but I wasn’t really the right man for that gig; I’m not a rocker and don’t do all those moves. I added some good stuff, but in the end, the behavior of Phil Lynott became too much for me. It was like he wanted to be a celebrity instead of a musician. Phil wrote good songs and was a fantastic frontman; I just wish he could have held it together. Still, I really enjoyed working with Scott – I think we blended well. Lots of nice memories there.
This article originally appeared in VG’s September 2022 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.