Saxon had a very distinctive guitar sound and here is the man responsible for it talking about his rig and the UK's first Heavy Metal festival - Donington 1980.
22nd August 2020
GO: Graham Oliver
HS: Hiromi Sugou (UPP-tone Music + Host)
GW: Glenn Williams (Moderator)
GB: George Bodman (Interpreter)
GW: Good evening everybody and thanks for joining us for the Graham Oliver Fan chat on Zoom. Graham thanks for doing this as well’ please kick it of with a bit of playing.
Graham plays a few Saxon riffs on his white Gibson SG.
GW: Tell us about those guitars around you Graham.
GO: This one (White Gibson SG) I bought in 1973 from Carlbro in Mansfield and this one (White Flying V) I got from Leicester, Sound Pad in December 1979 when it was brand new. I went there and said ‘What do you have with two pick-ups?’ and they opened the case and as soon as I saw it I thought I had to have it. It’s got the block inlays and when Randy Rhoads saw it, he actually played it. We played Red House by Jimi Hendrix once together in France and he played this and I played his spotted (polka dot) guitar. K.K. Downing, Michael Schenker and Rudolph, they’ve all fawned over this guitar when they saw it in 1980. The SG is a 1969 and was originally cherry red but I had it painted white because I wanted to be like Jimi Hendrix’s and a guy painted that on (shows portrait of Hendrix on the guitar) which isn’t something I’d do now but I was only a teenager at the time. It’s done in Indian ink and liquored over to protect it by the guy who designed the Saxon logo – he was a fantastic artist. It has an L500 Bill Lawrence pick-up and when Dimebag Darrell heard it when we were on tour, he went nuts about the sound. I was only using a Boss six-band graphic (GE-6), this guitar and a Marshall JCM800. He couldn’t believe the sound I got and he endorsed L500s at the time.
GW: What amp were you using in ’73 as the JCM800 wasn’t invented then?
GO: A Marshall Super Lead 100W like the Jimi Hendrix model – Plexi – and there were no master volume on it so it was either on full blast or off. That amp is now in a museum in San Diego.
GW: You mentioned you used the Boss six-band graphic as well, is that all you’ve ever used then?
GO: For the most part, yes. I’ve tended not to try and use effects. When we did some Back in Black gigs with AC/DC, I noticed Angus didn’t use any effects either other than his compressor and radio system. I use the graphic just to kick on for intros and solos and use the guitar as a guitar for volume and tones. I’m very old school in that sense. You have to work harder at it but it works for me and that’s all I used in Japan last year.
GW: Do you use the same set-up in the studio?
GO: For Wheels of Steel and Strong Arm of the Law, I used the Super Lead 100W and then we got new amplifiers bought for us – Marshall JCM880s. We used those for a while and then for the mid-eighties we used Laney 100W amps. Then in about 1989, I bought a JCM800 off Rick Parfitt from Status Quo and I’m still using that amp now for gigs. It’s a grey one and Marshall made me a custom matching cabinet with 100W Celestion speakers in which makes it a 400W cabinet.
GW: You’ve had quite a career, haven’t you? You’ve already mentioned a half a dozen great guitarists you’ve met, which ones have impressed you over the years.?
GO: There’s lots. In the early days we did some shows with a band called Nutz with Iron Maiden at the Manchester University and the guy in Nutz played an SG and he was fantastic (Mick Devonport who later went on to join NWOBHM band Rage). Dave Murray as well, I always liked his playing when we started doing gigs together at the Music Machine in Camden Town. I just like guitar music, sometimes I’ll listen to Albert King and we once did a tour with Yngwie Malmsteen and he used to blow me away every night. Randy Rhoads practiced all the time in the tune-up room and that’s how we got to jam. He did fantastic Blues as well as Heavy Metal guitar. At the moment I’m listening to John Mayer and people like that – there’s loads of them and I just love guitar in general, no matter what kind of playing it is. I’m just a sucker for guitar music.
GW: The last time we talked we talked a little bit about Hendrix. I know you’re a huge fan, saw him when you were fifteen years old and Lemmy was going to ask you to play Foxy Lady at some point I believe…
GO: Yeah the last time I saw Lemmy he was talking about doing a covers album and he wanted me to come over to Los Angeles and do Foxy Lady and he insisted that it had to be in F# (plays Foxy Lady).
GW: It was almost to the week, theirty-nine years ago and you played at the inaugural Heavy Metal Festival in England – Donington 1980. There were no Heavy Metal Festivals before that, what were you expecting?
GO: I was slightly overawed because first of all, there was a crowd of 50,000 and then Ritchie Blackmore shouted me over to his car. The window was wound down and I heard this voice calling ‘Graham! Graham!’ and he talked to me for about half an hour about all things guitar - we had supported them at the Deeside Leisure Centre (27th February 1980). When we went on, it were a fantastic response and in the recording you can hear how fast and frantic we were playing. When I talked to Lars Ulrich and James Hetfield from Metallica, to them, that’s like Woodstock is too me. I’ve met people who played at Woodstock and thought ‘Oh my goodness…you played at Woodstock!’ but I’ve met lots of musicians who to them, their Woodstock is that first Donington.
GW: Ok, let’s have some questions from fans. First is F-04K…
F-04K: Do you prefer 50W/60/ tube amps rather than 100W or 200W?
GO: No I’ve always used 100W. I’ve never owned a 50W but I have used them when I’ve been in situations where we have flown in and done festivals but I prefer the 100W because you can control it more but you can get a good sound out of a 50W Marshall. I have a 50W combo Marshall that I used to use in the studio sometimes for rhythms but it’s a bit beat up now. I have the 100W volume on just over No.2 and the Gain on full and I prefer the JCM800. There are two of those and the one I’ve got has two channels and doesn’t have loads of controls (to clarify, Graham has a JCM800 as opposed to the JCM800 2210).
GW: Thanks and next is Charles W. Brown…
CWB: Graham what’s next for the band?
GO: We’re working on a DVD at the moment that we recorded in Scotland with a Hi-definition five camera shoot. We’ve got all the footage and I think we’re going to do it at a studio in Wigan. It’ll be a 45 minutes show with some archival footage from different years and we’d also like to do an Oliver-Dawson Saxon anthology album. As with everybody else though, live gigs are up in the air at the moment.
GW: Ritti Danger, your question next.
RD: I have your solo album, will any of those tracks go onto the Anthology project?
GO: Yes. Born to Rock ‘n’ Roll (Graham plays Born to Rock ‘n’ Roll) and Step Inside Love from Steve Dawson’s solo album (Pandamonium Circus) will be on there as well. Those two will be kicking the album off and then we’ll going into the OD Saxon songs.
GW: F-04K you have another question?
F-04K: Yes. I believe you had a project with Ted Bullet from Thunderhead…
GO: Yes we did an album called Victim you with Pete Gill the original Saxon drummer. Ted was a fantastic singer and guitar player although he only sang on Victim Mule but he was difficult. He was a bit like Axle Rose to work with; great on stage but…he used to drink a lot (laughs). That was a bit alien to Saxon people because we mainly drink tea but he was a fantastic singer and the album was great. I just feel it came out a bit too early. It should have come out later when all the bands got together and did Black Country Reunion and Chicken foot and those kinds of bands, it would have been a great project for that later period. Everybody that hears it now thinks that it’s amazing but it’s just that at the time it came out, all the Seattle Grunge was happening but the songs and musicianship still stand up today.
GW: Graham, we are out of time so thanks for joining us and doing this, you always have good stories to tell.
GO: Thanks to you all. It’s been fantastic and I really appreciate it. See you later!
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