September 2011. By Greg Phillips
When iconic Australian guitarist Peter Wells could no longer take to the stage with Rose Tattoo due to his battle with cancer, it was Dai Pritchard whom the Tatts immediately called on to fill Pete’s shoes. In fact, Pete himself gave Pritchard his personal seal of approval. In rock ‘n’ roll, recommendations don’t come any better than that. While Dai continues to do an amazing job on slide for the Tatts, he also loves to keep it versatile by playing with his own band as well as any number of other quality music projects. AM’s Greg Phillips gave Dai a call to talk Tatts and took the opportunity to get his views on amplification.
You’re a big guy and play in a loud rock band, but you have great touch and feel on the guitar. Who did you learn that from?
Thanks for saying that. Hendrix was a great influence and I loved the way he played, very dynamic. You’d hear him play Purple Haze but then you’d hear Wind Cries Mary and he had beautiful touch. I picked it up along the way listening to guys like that.
When you joined the Tatts, you were not only joining a legendary band but filling huge shoes in Pete Wells. Did you feel the weight of that responsibility?
Yeah, big time! Especially with Pete, it wasn’t just the guitar player that he was, but the also the guy that he was. He was a big gentle giant and as a guitar player he had quite a footprint. Everything was open E and there was quite a sound about the way he played. I was his choice to fill his shoes and his reason was that I don’t play like him. I don’t but out of respect to the heritage of that band, I still had to tip my hat to Pete Wells and emulate quite a bit of what he was doing. Even now I still have to tip my hat to the Pete Wells years and the classic licks like Bad Boy and that sort of stuff. I still have to get it as close as I can.
I read in an interview how part of Pete’s sound is acquired by flattening the G string so it’s slightly out of whack …
That’s exactly right. That was from my first audition and it was weird. Well, I didn’t really audition, I was told I had the gig. I had played with Billy Thorpe for eight years and it was with the same drummer, Demarco. I knew all of the guys too. I knew Rob Riley and they just said let’s just get Dai to do it. I got the call to do the international stuff because Pete’s cancer had advanced and he couldn’t handle the plane trip. So Pete was actually in the room when I was auditioning, or thought I was auditioning and he came up and said, ‘see how your guitar is nicely in tune, well we can’t fuckin have that!’ They were his exact words. I said why would you do that? He said because it really pisses them off! If you listen to the old Tatts’ stuff, Pete is never quite in tune. It’s nasty and annoying and just a little bit out. He covered it up with some vibrato but yeah, that’s how he did it.
Playing with Rose Tattoo, the power is so important, but so too is the clarity. You could have used any amp in the world, why choose Blackstar?
The reason I use the Blackstar stuff is … I am an old school player. I am not a new metal guitar player and the Blackstars just have great definition. The Artisan is the model that I love. They have the same gain make up as a ‘59, a 1959 Marshall but they just have more of a bark and the ISF function is really cool. It’s an old school amp that is a little bit more versatile.
At a trade show one year you were saying that Blackstar doesn’t have a sound, it’s what you make it. Could you explain what you meant?
That’s exactly it. It’s a really interesting philosophy and they’ve come up with the catch cry that it’s the sound in your head. They have really tapped into something because all guitar players do have a sound in their head and it’s like the Holy Grail. You spend your life running around trying to find it. The thing I find with the Blackstar is that they love pedals. I run it two different ways. When I am with The Tatts, I use two 100 watt Artisan heads and two quad boxes and I run it through the hot side. Just old school. I don’t link the channels, a lot of guys do but I find it a bit too bottomy. I just go straight into the hot side until it breaks up. When it breaks up, it’s glorious and it’s insanely loud. When I do other gigs like with my own Dai Pritchard Band, I use the same rig but I don’t run it that way. I go into the low side and I use one of their pedals. I use their HT pedal into the low side. Then the pedal becomes the brain of my side. I still get a big fat blues rock sound, but I can control the level. So two completely different flavours but I can get them out of the same head.
So using the Artisan you’re emulating some classic amplifiers but then you have the Voice Control feature which gives you something else again…
That’s the IFS feature. It’s amazing and it’s right through their range. It’s even on their HT range, which is their bread and butter. The Artisan is at the high end. A lot of amps will have that sort of function and but it will be a mid shift. It will scoop the mids. What this one does is change the pre amp stage. So if you have it far left, you’ve got a Bassman. Then you’ll have a Twin, an early Plexi then a late Plexi, like a ‘74 vibe, but slightly hotter. So yeah, I run it two different ways. If I run it straight, like with the Tatts, I run it all the way to the right like a ‘74 Plexi. When I run it with my band I notch it back to an early Plexi. It cleans it up a little more, I get the gain and all of those overtones out of the pedal.
Do you tend to fiddle with your guitar’s controls?
It’s funny because I have been teaching guitar for a long time and I also do a lot of clinics and explain to people that it took me a long time to realise there is a volume control on the guitar. It takes guitar players a while to figure it out. When you’re young, everything is just flat out. After a while you realise that you can use the thing! I use the guitar volume control more when I am playing clean. The thing with a good amp, if you just use it to just amplify your guitar, which is what it is supposed to do, you have that control of dynamic with your volume knob. You can have an amp that you have really loud and ballsy, then when you turn the guitar down, it should clean up. Amps should clean up by doing that. If you minimise what is going into the amp, it should clean out, it’s just logic.
I saw Rose Tattoo as a teenager at the Croxton Park Hotel in Melbourne and it was one of the scariest gigs I’ve ever been to. The room was half full of skinheads and half with bikies and there was such tension in the air.
You ought see it from my view! (laughs)
But much of the tension was caused by the sheer volume. How important is volume as a dynamic tool to the band these days?
To be honest, not so much these days. In the early days, yeah. I’ve only been onboard since 2004 so I can’t hark back to those days, I wasn’t there. That was Pete and Mick Cocks. If you look at early footage, they were really cranky kids with guitars and that adds to the angst of the performance. I have had this argument though … and I have argued … with sound guys who expect a gig to be like in the studio… you know, it’s all about the mix. No it’s not guys, it’s all about the performance of the band. So if that band has to play too loud to put across the performance they want and it’s going to fuck your mix, then so be it, your mix is going to be fucked mate! But, the audience is going to enjoy the performance, which is above the mix in my eye. I don’t care what anyone says. We’ve done a lot of work with Motorhead and I can tell you, nobody tells Motorhead to turn down, because they wouldn’t be Motorhead. They’d be some generic thing acting like Motorhead. People go there expecting that. Billy Thorpe was the same. I remember guys trying to tell Thorpie to turn the sound down. You’ve never seen someone get told to fuck off so quick! People know that and know what they are going to get when they see a band like that. But these days, it’s a changing landscape and to answer your original question, it isn’t so important now. People don’t really expect it like that anymore.
Plus there are more controls over venue
volume now …
That’s right, you just don’t work. We are on the road again soon and some of the venues we have played at before, I’m cutting back to an Artisan head and two quad boxes and it works really well but you have to be careful because it can become a work cover issue, you know, you can get sued!
The guitar you use is a custom built Andy Allen. Andy is the custom guy at Maton. How did that guitar come about?
It was made in Andy’s shed. Andy has been a mate for a long time, he did a lot of work with Thorpie. Yeah, the Tatt mobile! I wanted a Flying V. I have been fan of the Tatts since I was a 15 year old kid. The fact that I am in the band that I love is really cool. I never saw them live at my age but I saw them on Countdown. My memory of Peter Wells was a set of Aviators and a black Flying V and it was so cool. Then later when I started playing slide, I realised why he played the V. They are really good to play slide with. The neck stops where the body starts so you have complete access right up the neck. I had a V in the past and was looking for another one. I was talking to Andy and he said, I’ll build one for you. I’ll nick out to the shed and knock one up for you … and he did! It’s beautiful and he put a dedication to Pete Wells on the back of it. Pete actually produced a band that Andy was in.
You teach guitar, but was the best piece of advice anyone ever gave you about playing guitar?
Tommy Emmanuel gave me a really cool piece of advice. It was pretty funny. He did some gigs with Thorpie, a corporate thing. I was just in awe of Tommy and I asked him that question … what kind of advice can you give me? He leant in and I was waiting with bated breath. He said… you move your hand up and down the long bit and the music comes out of the black box behind you. It was hilarious. Honestly, my best advice to any guitar player would be play the music you love and don’t let anyone tell you any different.
A lot of Tattoo stories have been documented in books and magazines but what’s your favourite Tatts’ story that one of the other band members has told you?
There was an all out brawl once between Rose Tattoo and Cold Chisel. I think it was at the Bondi Lifesaver. It started with Digger Royal who was the original drummer and Steve Prestwich. from there it went to the whole band. The Tatts won! it’s just one of a gazillion stories I hear and make me laugh.
Who are some other Australian guitarists you admire?
Straight off the bat, KB! Kevin Borich. He’s like our Jimi Hendrix. He’s amazing … so him, Ian Moss, and John Meyer have always been up there. He’s one of the great untapped talents, played in the Tatts. He’s out in Western Australia. Never met the man but would love to. I nearly met him at the Broadbeach Blues Festival a few years ago where I saw him play and he’s amazing. Of course Tommy Emmanuel, who is such a great ambassador. I remember listening to a Tommy Emmanuel album with Phil, the guitar player from Motorhead who thought he was fantastic.
What’s coming up for you?
I’m doing the Long Live Bon shows through September. I love that era of ACDC, all the Bon Scott stuff. When I used to skate as a kid at Burley’s rink in Ringwood, ACDC would be there playing in the corner… and they sounded exactly the same! They used exactly the same gear. They are a national treasure. So I am doing some stuff with my band just developing myself as a player. The Tatts start up again in August and we’re going around Australia.