By: Rick Landers
The blues is nearly always driven by the fuel of hard won emotions, suffering from love gone bad.
Blues aficionados know that there’s also a bit of fun to be had when a blues man shows up with some over the top testosterone driven swagger.
This fiery mixture defines the guitar work of Edgar Winter’s guitarist, Doug Rappoport.
In his grip, the blues can be wrenching and sad, or explosive with a fit of romper room fun. His strange brew concoction of blues rock takes on a persona that can be as riveting as it can be sensitive.
He can rip through the blues with abandon, with the flash of a Lonnie Mack or a Johnny Winter.
Watch him channel the molten steel Texas blues of Stevie Ray Vaughan, then moments later top off the tank with a delicate style reminiscent of SRV’s quiet etude, “Lenny” or the more delicate sonics of Jimi Hendrix.
Call it magic.
Call it voodoo.
Or keep it straight and just call it pure talent. By any measure, Doug Rappoport’s got it.
He released his killer debut album, Bionic, in 2009. It’s been a few years since that release, giving Doug some time to create. So, stick around, there are more ripping tracks being stirred in the cauldron by this rising force, who shares the stage with Edgar Winter.
Rick Landers: I saw on your website that you want to be the sickest, nastiest, bluesiest, hard-rockingest guitar player that you can. What are you doing to meet that standard that you set for yourself?
Doug Rappoport: I think I am doing that. I’m always my harshest critic and I know you’ve heard that a million times. And everyone’s said that a million times: that guitar players are their own harshest critics. That’s certainly true in my case.
Basically, what I try to do is stick to what feels right to me, and I’ve sort of stopped feeling pressure from what’s going on in the guitar world, and just really staying true to what feels good being true to me at the soul level.
Just playing blues, rock as ferociously as I possibly can. I think in the last few years I’ve really found my own voice with regard to that, and I think I’m doing it in a way that’s uniquely mine. Yeah, to answer your question, I am. I am doing that. It’s working.
Rick: I was listening to some of your tracks and was getting into “Bionic Wars”; it’s a great track. It sounded like you added some Middle Eastern influences.
Doug Rappoport: I might have been. I sort of take inspiration from little bits and pieces that I come across on a daily basis. And I think at that point I was sort of surfing the Internet and I came across this breed of dog. It’s a Turkish breed. I wish I could remember what it’s called. It’s got a reputation for being one of the most ferocious breeds in the world. And they were showing pictures of this dog in mid-fight, and its teeth coming out huge and looking really mean.
It had this spooky, eerie Turkish/Middle Eastern music going on. It sort of set my teeth on edge and made my hair stand up. At that time I thought it was really cool, so I did kind of incorporate that kind of vibe into it. That’s what inspired me at that moment.
Rick: Do you find you do that often? You hear something and you come up with something that’s not the same; not that you’re copying, but that you were influenced by it, inject that improvisation?
Doug Rappoport: Yeah, that’s pretty much how I do it. It just sort of becomes a part of me.
I guess an example would be like guitar players I listen to that influence the way I play. I can take something from one guitar solo they’ve done and not necessarily become totally involved with that guitar, but I’ll hear something that they do – a lick even – that just blows me away and immediately gets incorporated into what I’m doing.
I don’t necessarily have to become obsessed with a guitar player and start studying every little thing they’ve done. It can literally be just one lick I hear, and then I’ll listen to everything else they do and not like it at all.
But, it could be just one thing they do, and I like it so much, it just becomes a part of me, part of my repertoire.
Rick: So when you’re kind of noodling around, do you have a recorder nearby so you don’t forget what you’ve done?
Doug Rappoport: Yeah, the iPhone. I can’t stand that thing, except for that one thing. I can set up a camera or recorder and hit a button and it’ll record ideas. That’s all it’s good for, as far as I’m concerned. [Laughing]
Rick: Otherwise, I find I just keep playing something over and over again and hope that I’m not going to forget it.
Doug Rappoport: Exactly. Yeah. And my memory is so bad. I’m sure a lot of people find this; “Oh, man this is so cool. I’m sure I’ll remember it.”
And then the next day it’s gone. They’ll think, well if it’s really worthwhile, I’ll remember it. Something like that. But you gotta record, gotta have something handy. I always do.
Rick: I’ve written songs years ago, and sometimes I find they just come back to me after not playing them for years. Still, I think having a recorder is a good tool to have on hand. What do you use as far as gear? I’ve seen you with a red Strat and a black Les Paul?
Doug Rappoport: I guess 90 percent of the time, I’m with the Les Paul. It’s just the Les Paul standard and I love that thing. It’s my number one go-to guitar, and when I’m on the road I just use Marshalls, usually JCM-2000s.
The red Strat I had for a couple of years and then I sold it. I wish I didn’t because it was a great guitar, but I’m really mostly just about the Les Paul.
I got it new in 2000, so it’s a 2000 model – almost 13 years old now. It looks like it’s about 50 years old, because it’s been all over the world. I don’t take great care of it.
Rick: When you travel around, it’s hard not to ding it up on occasion, I’d guess.
Doug Rappoport: Yeah. In fact on this last tour, someone really smashed it. Boy, it was heartbreaking. I got onstage and I saw this giant bruise on the back of the guitar and a chip off the headstock. I was so mad. [Laughing]
I’m gonna think about on the next tour next summer finding another guitar that I don’t mind getting dinged up.
Rick: I had two 1982 Smith Strats. One was in mint condition and the other one was banged up. I always grabbed the banged-up one.
Doug Rappoport: I don’t mind the buckle rash and someone’s going to drop it or run a road case over it. That’s excessive. It really got smashed. I’m lucky the headstock didn’t snap or the neck. But it got pretty smashed. I was not happy.
Rick: Did you have to have it repaired?
Doug Rappoport: It can’t be repaired. I did bring it into my guy here. It just is what it is. It’s not really repairable. I just had them check for cracks and things like that, and luckily there were none.
Rick: At least it’s still playing, I suppose. So you were born in England. Is that right?
Doug Rappoport: Yes.
Rick: And then you ended up in South Africa somehow. Tell me about the road trip from UK to South Africa to the States.
Doug Rappoport: Well, basically my parents are both fourth or fifth-generation South Africans. When they were married, my father was in medical school. He went to England. We had some family out there, and he wanted to do his residency in England.
So, after they were married, they moved there. I was born and then my brother was born. We lived there for a while and they really loved it there.
Rick: Where in London?
Doug Rappoport: Right in London…Hampstead Gardens. But ,everything was all set up for my dad back in South Africa, so ultimately we went back there. After living out of South Africa for so long, they found it very difficult to go back. This was the Apartheid era. They didn’t want to raise us there in South Africa.
They thought about going back to England, but because my dad was a doctor, and socialized medicine didn’t really help his pocketbook, we ended up going to the States. And that’s what happened. We went to Boston and we lived there for a couple of years and then out to L.A. – where we’ve been ever since.
Rick: When did you start playing guitar?
Doug Rappoport: I started playing when I was 11 or 12.
Rick: Were you in Boston at the time?
Doug Rappoport: No, I was in LA. I was already like 7, when I got to L.A..
Rick: Oh, that’s pretty young. What drew you to the guitar? What were you listening to?
Doug Rappoport: No, what happened was I always loved music, and when we moved to the states, my mom brought her Queen albums. They were obviously huge over in Europe, and I don’t think they were quite hitting in the states at that point.
But, my mom had Queen and Jethro Tull and stuff like that on the record player all the time, but I was fanatical about Queen.
She had to teach me how to use the record player. I would just play that song “Tenement Funsters” over and over again. It was from Sheer Heart Attack and that was my first.
I would just sit there and just air instruments, everything – air drum, air guitar. It just transported me. It wasn’t until I was about 10 where I went to a small school in L.A., and we’d have these dances. Because the school was so small, it would be all the kids, so it would be from age 9 to the 18-year-old kids.
We’d all go to the little auditorium and have a dance. Because it was the early ’80s, it was all rock. Everyone was a rocker there.
They started playing “Back in Black” [AC/DC] over the big stereo system, and I lost my mind. I heard the first chord of “Back in Black” and it just blew me away. I think before that, I’d always been looking at guitars.
I’d see them in stores or at people’s houses. And I just thought it was this magical, amazing looking thing that for some reason really captivated me. Once I heard “Back in Black,” that was it. That’s the greatest thing ever.
And my mom had a piano. She was a classical piano player. I’d sit at the piano and I found fifths. You know, I’d hit an E, then I’d hit a B, then I’d hit those together and it would sound like a power chord and I’d be like, “Oh my God, that’s so cool.”
That was it; I just had to play guitar.
Rick: A lot of players have been influenced by Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Johnny Winter and the legends. Is there anybody you listened to that wasn’t kind of a household name?
Doug Rappoport: There are guys I’ve been really influenced by that aren’t super well-known, like Eric Gales.
I’ve been a fan of his for years and years. He’s starting to come to the forefront now of the guitar world a little bit now. But, I’ve been a fan for a long time. That’s probably the most obscure cat that I’ve been influenced by.
Rick: We’ve covered Eric a few times. He’s amazing.
Doug Rappoport: Yeah, I’m crazy about that dude. [Laughing].
I was just going to say that I was really into guys like Warren DeMartini [RATT].
I still think he’s the shit, but when I was a kid, I was completely fanatical about him. Unless you were a serious guitar player, no one really knew.
Everyone knew who Eddie Van Halen was. He was an icon.
But, no one really knew who Warren DeMartini was as far as I knew, unless you were a hardcore guitar player and really got it. Then you’d be like, “Oh, yeah. This guy’s really great.” You know what I mean?
Rick: Yeah, he wasn’t like a celebrity that you hear about all the time.
Doug Rappoport: Exactly. He wasn’t like Steve Vai or Eddie Van Halen or any of those cats. He was just this god that no one seemed to know about, but I just worshiped him. I thought he was the greatest ever.
Rick: Did you ever listen to Yngwie Malmsteen?
Doug Rappoport: Oh, yeah…absolutely. Love Yngwie. Love that guy. I did.
Rick: How did you end up meeting Edgar Winter?
Doug Rappoport: I was working for an auction house in Beverly Hills and the guy who owned the auction house wanted to record an album. He always wanted to be a musician he wanted to do an album singing jazz standards.
What he had me do, being an employee, was I had to drive a van out to a recording engineer’s house and help him lug his gear around. I made friends with the engineer. I gave him a demo CD that I’d made. It turns out this guy was friends with Edgar.
Edgar called him saying, “I’m looking for a guitar player.” And he said, “Well, you gotta hear this guy,” and he gave him my CD. And Edgar called me a couple of days later – had me come and audition, just like that.
Rick: Did you audition at his home or a studio?
Doug Rappoport: I went to his house, brought a little amp and he put me through the wringer.
Rick: Did you have to play songs that he’d done?
Doug Rappoport: What he did first was he sang a bunch of lines. He said, “I’m gonna sing a bunch of lines and I want to hear you copy what I do.” Luckily, I’ve got a pretty good ear, especially when it comes to bluesy stuff. He sang a bunch of stuff and I copied it.
After that he just played a few tracks. He said, “Let me hear you play some guitar solos.” And that’s what I did. I played along on some tracks of his and did some solos. I guess he dug it.
Rick: Did he hire you right away or did he get to know you a little better or what?
Doug Rappoport: Actually, he’d already hired somebody, and I think he liked my playing a little bit better.
But. I think another thing that he was excited about, was he was toying with the idea of making a foray into heavy rock.
At that time, I was a hard rock guy. I had the spiky hair, the big earrings and I had the Deftones kind of vibe going on.
And he’s like, “Well, he can play my stuff, but he’s also into the heavy stuff, which I want to get into.” I think that played into my favor a little bit.
Rick: It’s like he had a plan and you fit the bill. When you put together your solo album, Bionic, how did you develop the songs? Was it tough to figure out what songs you wanted to put on the album and then all the logistics of just making it happen?
Doug Rappoport: Both. That’s the short answer; it was very difficult. I did all the recording on my own and the engineering.
It was hard because, honestly, I’m not the most prolific writer in the world. To write something takes a long time for me. At that time, my son was born.
I was very happy and very inspired. It was a really good time in my life. It was like I had this amazing new child. Everything was just wonderful.
I was in such a good place that I was able to put it together relatively easily – for me, anyway.
Rick: Has it been hard to market?
Doug Rappoport: No.
Rick: I think a lot of people put their CDs on CD Baby and they just sit and wait for people to buy. How do you actually move your product?
Doug Rappoport: I don’t know because, honestly, I have done absolutely nothing to market it, other than putting up a blurb at my website. But really, I think just word of mouth.
When I go on the road with Edgar, I think people look me up on the Internet and maybe end up buying a couple of tunes.
Edgar is very generous. He lets every musician of the band really show their stuff. I really get a chance every night to step out and strut my stuff. [Laughter] I think that helps.
As far as actively marketing, I really haven’t done anything. I had this guy from Grooveyard Records, someone showed him a disc and he loved it. He just starts buying from me every month, discs, like wholesale and he sells them online by himself. He puts them in different stores like Guitar 9, CD Baby.
He does it all. He sends me a PayPal thing and I send him discs. And I have a small handful of videos I put on YouTube that I put up that I think people listen to and end up finding my album somewhere.
Rick: I found while poking around YouTube and I thought, “Who is this guy?” Like a monster guitar player that I haven’t heard of before. It was an amazing clip. It was the one with the red Strat, and Edgar sort of let you loose.
Doug Rappoport: Thank you. Yeah, we did a U.K. tour back in ’05. We did a DVD shoot at Albert Hall at the end and that’s what that was from.
Rick: Now that you’ve been on the road with Edgar for what, 9 years now?
Doug Rappoport: 10 years, yeah.
Rick: Have you found your performance chops onstage or become more comfortable onstage over all that time – you kind of get in the groove when he says, “OK, go ahead and do your thing”?
Doug Rappoport: Oh, yeah. Definitely. I’m very comfortable up there now, just because I’m that kind of guy. [Laughing]
I love to be onstage and ham and perform, and that’s the dream, to have a guitar around my neck and be onstage. But yeah, I’ve always felt at home onstage. And now after ten years, I feel pretty good up there.
Rick: Is it tough to keep things fresh because you’re playing a lot of the same songs night after night?
Doug Rappoport: I don’t think so. I haven’t had any problems. No, not really, because I love the music and he lets me do whatever I want to do so I can be myself. I can put my spin on things. So no, it hasn’t been a problem at all.
Rick: Have you got a good mix of new songs that you might put out another album? Is that in the works?
Doug Rappoport: Yeah, I do. I actually had a bunch of songs I was working on and my house got robbed. They took my computer and I had a bunch of tunes on there and riff ideas and they’re gone.
I’m kind of starting over again, and really bummed about it. But, you know, you move on. What can you do?
On this new album, it is all over the place because I’m really trying to broaden my audience. I’m trying to do something like what Joe Bonamassa’s doing, but heavier, with a way more rock vibe to it. That’s kind of the vibe I want to do, songs with vocals and things like that. We’ll see.
Rick: When you’re learning techniques, what’s the most challenging technique that you’ve learned over the years? Which one is the toughest?
Doug Rappoport: That’s a tough question. The technique I really had to work through was actually sweep picking, because I do it a little differently than what you typically associate with sweep picking.
When you think of sweep picking, you think of these guys as just raking their picks across the strings and doing these triads. [Doug makes sounds of sweep picking].
I actually tried to sweep in time, as perfect sixteenth notes that I could. Just trying to get the sweep technique down at a medium-fast speed is much more difficult than just sweeping – just raking your pick across.
Anyone can do that, but having a controlled fall, or a control when you’re pulling the pick back up and getting it in time and smooth sounding.
I found that very challenging, but it was really exciting to learn, because I knew I could get it. And that’s just the way I sweep. I don’t just rake my pick across.
I do sweep, but it’s at a medium speed and I think it’s way cooler. You can hear every note, you know, that’s being swept.
Rick: It’s not a blur.
Doug Rappoport: Right. Exactly. Practicing and studying that technique was how I came up with the first song on the Bionic album, called “Ripp Rapp”. It’s just 175 BPM sixteenth notes. It’s really fast. There’s a lot of sweeping in there, it’s very controlled. It sounds very liquidy and legato. That’s exactly what I was going for, but it is sweeping. That’s probably the toughest technique.
Rick: Did you find it frustrating trying to get as fast as you wanted to get? Did you just go slow and focus on the technique or try to get the speed fast? What was your real focus as you moved forward on that?
Doug Rappoport: My focus was control. That’s achieved at slow speeds and medium speeds, and that’s what I was going for, I was going for control.
That’s tough, especially with sweep picking, because you’ve got to have a lot of control of your right hand and it’s got to sync up with your left hand. If you’re an alternate picker, that can be a weird thing for your brain to get around, but that’s all I was going for, control.
Rick: And now you find it pretty natural to do? Pretty instinctive?
Doug Rappoport: Most of the time. I still get carried away. When I go for a sweeping like, I still have a little difficulty controlling it. It’ll get away from me sometimes, yeah. [Laughing] For sure. It’s not 100 percent under control for sure.
Rick: Play anything else besides guitar?
Doug Rappoport: A little bit of this and that, a little bit of drums and a little bit of keyboards. That’s it really.
Rick: Do you have any other things, or hobbies that are a passion besides the music?
Doug Rappoport: No. [Laughing] I’m really passionate about guitar and that’s really it for me. I mean other than my kids, my family. I’m interested in what my kids do. My son is a great athlete, so I really get into the sports with him. He loves video games. That kind of stuff I get into, but as far as my passion, it’s just playing the guitar. That’s all I want to do, all I care about doing.
Rick: We talked about you shredding and sweep picking. When you’re handling your pick, do you keep it loose or do you hold it tight, or do you even know what you do when you’re playing? Is there a pick technique that you use?
Doug Rappoport: I don’t hold it tight, but it’s not too loose either. It’s pretty comfortable. My hand doesn’t get tired or anything from squeezing the pick. It’s a pretty comfortable pressure.
I hold the pick differently when I’m doing two notes per string. And then when I do three notes per string, I hold the pick differently. When I’m trill picking, I hold the pick differently. When I’m doing the quasi-Eric Johnson pentatonic stuff, I have a different way I hold the pick. My pick moves around a lot. It’s really what’s comfortable, but I don’t squeeze it.
Rick: Ever play without a pick?
Doug Rappoport: Yeah, sure. I went through a period where I was really into Chet Atkins, so I learned a lot of that finger picking stuff. I love playing without a pick too.
Rick: I think Mark Knopfler plays without a pick and he gets some gorgeous tones out of his guitars.
Doug Rappoport: Yeah. Jeff Beck too. I just saw this great video of Jeff Beck playing one of his tunes. I can’t remember the name of it, but it’s a famous one. And he was using his pick and then he put it in his mouth and he was using his fingers, and he was pulling out so many awesome tones. It was unbelievable. I should shoot it to you.
Rick: Have you seen him do “A Day in the Life” by the Beatles?
Doug Rappoport: Yes. Isn’t that unbelievable?
Rick: You hear it and your mouth drops.
Doug Rappoport: Yeah, beautiful. I know it. Just beautiful.
Rick: What acoustic guitars do you have? Do you have a few around?
Doug Rappoport: I do. I have three acoustic guitars. A sum total value, if you added them all up, would be about $300 for all of them. [Laughing] I have two Yamahas, a nylon string and a steel string. And then I have this Ovation that I bought for $200 when I was a kid. I still have it. That’s probably the best-sounding one. It records beautifully, but I’m not really an acoustic player. I’ve probably put in a total of 10 hours in my whole life on an acoustic guitar.
Rick: I’ve got about four, five maybe. One of the best ones I’ve got cost me $300. I got it off eBay, and it was a guitar handmade from the 1920s. You can tell it was handmade if you look at it closely. It’s got a tone that matches a ’60s Martin that I’ve got. It’s incredible. It’s kind of bowed in the back like a violin. I don’t know if the guy who built it was a violin builder or a mandolin builder. Pretty cool guitar.
Doug Rappoport: Wow, that’s cool. A friend of mine from Argentina used to do a lot of Latin music tours. He played a lot of acoustic guitar and his gig was nylon strings and he did a lot of that stuff. I said, “That’s a nice guitar,” and he said, “Yeah, it’s a $150 Yamaha.” I was like, “Wow, okay.” Sounded great, though.
You know who’s awesome on those things is Steve Stevens. Have you seen that guy?
Rick: Yeah, we’ve interviewed him.
Doug Rappoport: He’s been Billy Idol’s guitar player for a long time.
Rick: Yeah, Billy Morrison is with them too, right?
Doug Rappoport: Steve’s a killer rock guitar player and writer. He also plays flamenco and classical stuff. When he does his guitar solo on the Billy Idol show, it’s on a nylon acoustic. It’s really good. He can rip on that thing.
Rick: Have you thought of collaborating with some other people on an album? Not another band but maybe another guitar player.
Doug Rappoport: Not really. I haven’t thought about that. I’m pretty – not territorial – that’s too strong of a word. No, I haven’t thought about really playing with another guitar player. [Laughing]
Rick: That’s not a bad thing. [Laughing] You’re gonna be on tour with Edgar?
Doug Rappoport: Yeah, we’re getting a nice group of dates. We did a rock and bluesfest last summer where I got to play with Rick Derringer and Edgar and Kim Simmonds. I don’t know if you know who that guy is from Savoy Brown. And we’re gonna do it again this summer.
We’ve got some nice dates overseas, as well, that I’m really looking forward to. Looks like I’m getting some management, which I’m really excited about. I want to get an album out before I hit the road in the summer.
So, I’m just gonna go crazy with stuff like that.
Rick: I haven’t heard it but I saw that on your album that you do “Dying to Live.”
Was that a slow, bluesy thing?
Doug Rappoport: It’s heavy, you know? It’s bluesy but it’s definitely heavy. The whole album is hard rock. That’s just how I do it.
We were in Detroit a few years ago and actually, Eminem was, I think, redoing that song himself. Tupac Resurrected, the movie, was coming out and Eminem was remaking that song, “Dying to Live.”
Because we were going through that area, we actually ended up going to Eminem’s studio. Edgar recorded some vocal tracks. A lot of people have covered that song, and I was like, “You know what? No one’s done a rocked out version of it, and that’s what I’m gonna do.”
I did it. I checked with Edgar to see how he liked it, and he said, “I love it!” So I put it out, and it was cool, with his blessing.
Rick: You met Johnny [Winter]?
Doug Rappoport: Oh, yeah. Sure. Lots of times. We’ve done tons of shows with Johnny. Yeah, I got to hang with Johnny quite a bit.
Rick: Think you’ll do some acoustic at some time?
Doug Rappoport: Yeah, I’d like to. When I’m noodling around on one, I do enjoy it, but I feel weird, man. I feel like I’m not doing it justice. My hands are just not doing it right. I don’t know. Weird.
Rick: Maybe you’re just built for electric guitar.
Doug Rappoport: Yeah, maybe. Maybe. [Laughing]