Warren DeMartini: Ratt’s Riff Monster

Warren DeMartini playing live
in Los Angeles in August 2007.
(Photo courtesy of Warren DeMartini.net.)

Twenty-six years after Out Of The Cellar became a multi-platinum hit and made them rock superstars, original Ratt members Stephen Pearcy (vocals), Warren DeMartini (guitars) and Bobby Blotzer (drums), along with long-time bassist Robbie Crane and guitarist/ex-Quiet Riot member Carlos Cavazo, have released one of the strongest musical statements of their career, Infestation. It’s their first new album in 11 years, and despite hitting middle age, the band has not lost its edge and produced a multifaceted collection of catchy hard rock tunes. It also showcases stellar six-string playing from DeMartini, whom many fans consider to be an underrated rock guitarist.

Prior to the release of their new album, ADD spoke with DeMartini to discuss creating Ratt’s latest platter, his fateful phone call with former Scorpions guitarist Uli Jon Roth and playing with Carlos Cavazo. For more from DeMartini, read my Ratt feature in the recent Aquarian Weekly.

I’m enjoying the new album.
Me, too. Right now I’m going back and listening to stuff that I wrote, at least for my parts. Some stuff you come up with and record on the spot, and you don’t play it again unless it gets into the live set. Sometimes you go, “How did I do that?”

Infestation reminds me of the first EP and Out Of The Cellar with elements of Detonator present as well.
I always thought it was too bad that Detonator didn’t come out between Dancing Undercover and Reach For The Sky because I think it would’ve been a different thing. But by the time Detonator came out, the scene had really changed.

DeMartini (left) with the current Ratt roster.

It feels like since Nirvana we really haven’t had a major paradigm shift in rock music. There hasn’t been a band that’s come along and really reinvented rock ‘n roll. Would you agree?
It sure doesn’t seem like it to me. It doesn’t seem like anything has really stood out one way or the other because everything is so fragmented and there’s so much to choose from. Except that rock has slowly, quietly gotten stronger and stronger, at least at retail in terms of ’70s and ’80s rock. You can see it in retail chain stores now, and that’s been strong for years now. I feel like everyone took a look around and felt that this was still the best [stuff].

Stephen said that producer Michael Baskette pushed you guys to do something like Out Of The Cellar and play to those strengths.
I always felt that even when the band broke up after the Detonator tour in ’91 that there was still good work ahead if we wanted to be around for it.

DeMartini and Stephen Pearcy rock the house at the Ratt record release party
at the Key Club in Los Angeles on April 20, 2010.
(Photo © 2010 by Valerie A. Ciliento.)

Do you think that the time off may have helped you to come back with something fresh?
I don’t know. Not really. The time off was unavoidable, and I feel if we had continued on from 1999, this record could’ve come out much earlier. But it takes some time and miles to break in a band to do something on a record. It’s a weird thing. It was good preparation for us to get together and do a couple of tours before we did this record, because it brings in a continuity that you just can’t get any other way. At least that’s the way it is for Ratt.

The Scorpions have announced that they’re going to stop making albums and retire after this next, extensive world tour. They’re a little older than you guys.
That reminds me of staying up trying to learn Uli Jon Roth guitar parts with Jake E. Lee when I was a high school. It’s funny because in one of the first Scorpions record, possibly the first, there was a phone number and someone called it continuously until finally — and this was back when it was five bucks a minute to call overseas because it was still the AT&T cable that went from New York under the ocean — they got Uli Jon Roth’s number and that circulated amongst us guitar rats. I used to stay up until three or four in the morning on the weekends to call Germany and hopefully catch him when he was home. I eventually did talk to him once, and it was amazing. I was probably 14 or 15, and he was super cool. It was an amazing thing to meet him all those years later and that he actually remembered that.

The phone number was in the album?
It was on the album jacket, and Rudy Schenker told me that it was his number. Back then Uli was doing everything. He was booking the band and managing them. It was either on Fly To The Rainbow or Lonesome Crow. We played a gig with them in Chicago last summer. My family moved to San Diego from Chicago when I was about 12, and then when I was 14 or 15, I went back to Chicago and stayed with my brother. The Scorpions were playing a club in Chicago called Beginnings, and some friends arranged for me to get in because it was a 21 and over show. I didn’t actually get introduced to them, but someone walked in one of the flyers and they all signed it. It’s fun to think back about all that stuff. We played a show with them last summer at an amphitheater on Lake Michigan, and it’s a great place to play. You can see the city skyline and the water. After the show we talked about doing some stuff again this summer. At that time I didn’t know is that it would be a farewell tour for them. I hope it’s something that they can spread over the next 10 years.

When did you finally meet Uli John Roth?
I met him at the House of Blues. He was touring with Michael Schenker a few years ago.

And he actually remembered talking to you 15 or 20 years earlier?
Yeah, he did. That was the first thing I asked him. He said, “I remember you. I don’t remember everybody, but a name like yours I remember.” [laughs] I’m not sure if anybody else ever rang him up at home, but definitely no one from California [did]. It was a really eventful thing to actually get him on the phone. Imagine being 15 and having all the records spread out. The bass player in my high school band would stay over, and we would figure out what the time change would be, and figured he would be getting up at 11 or 12. We did want to call too early, so we would wait until three or four [in the morning]. Years later I found out he was nothing like that. He would get up early, and most of the time that we called he was out doing stuff. The one time that he answered the phone there was a moment where I just couldn’t breathe. There was a little bit of an echo because of the length of this telephone connection, and it was very scratchy. But it was definitely him. You could just tell. I could recognize his voice from the songs that he sung. It was cool.

DeMartini performing at the Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles in July 2009.
(Photo courtesy of Warren DeMartini.net.)

Do you interface with your fans through social media sites?
Somebody was impersonating me on Facebook, so I secured that. I started it, but I haven’t had the chance to really do it regularly. Getting ready for this tour and getting ready for the release, it’s something that I haven’t been able to work in. We keep in touch when we go out on the road. It’s a challenge for me to balance the band time and my own time, so when I’m done with one I don’t really want to change the other.

What are your favorite songs on the album?
There’s a song in the album called “Take A Big Bite,” and the opening reminds me of a moment during the first rehearsal, when Stephen came back to the band, and we were rehearsing “Lack Of Communication”. Live we would come up with different endings [because the song fades on album]. We came up with an ending for “Lack of Communication” that was more of a segueway with a completely different riff to it. We rehearsed the song, and by the end of it Stephen was blown away. He said we should make a song out of that, and it was at that moment I realized that creatively our friendship was still intact, even after all the tumultuous years that had gone by. The riff to “Big Bite” opens up with the riff that used to be the outro to “Lack of Communication”. “Best Of Me” was one of those magic moments where Carlos played the opening riffs when we were rehearsing the material for Infestation, and it just went on to be a favorite of mine. “Last Call” is one of my favorite things I’ve done in a while. It was a riff that we worked out for the self-titled 1999 album that came out in Columbia, but it didn’t make it onto that record, which ended up being a good thing because I mixed that riff and the other parts with some ideas that Carlos had. We ended up co-writing the music that one, and then Stephen came up with the words. That’s a really fun riff to play.

The latest Ratt album, Infestation.

Is there anything that your fans be surprised to learn about you after all these years?
I’ve got a lot of song ideas started, and the archive continues to grow. It wouldn’t be unusual that that makes its way out if Ratt takes a break.

One Response

  1. Erndog

    Ratt sounds stronger than ever. I met Warren after the Ratt show at the Gibson Amphitheater in L.A. CA. What a class act. I sure miss the 80’s rock when a lot of the music was melodic but had a groove to it. Very happy times. But then when Kirk Kabang came out with his angry music, it screwed up the industry all together. He should have taken that shit with him instead of leaving it here. A lot of that so called grunge bullshit should just go away and bring back the powerhouse melodic rock that at least made people happy. Thanks for leaving your bullshit with us Mr. Kabang!


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