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"I can die happy right now" - Paul Crook

Paul Crook Interview

Debbie Seagle (for Rocknworld):  Paul, with Anthrax, I thought I recognized you.  I interviewed John Bush a few years back and I think I saw you then.  Also with Sebastian Bach and Meatloaf and did I read on your website you did something in Australia with YES?

Paul Crook:  Close, really close.  What happened in Australia is we recorded a DVD with the symphony and ironically, Meatloaf’s management also manages YES.  So what you saw was Meatloaf and YES together in the theatre.  We didn’t play with them, but they actually put the two bands together for a theatre thing – all Regal Cinemas across the country.  That’s the only association.

DS:  So, it’s safe to say that you aren’t someone that they just pulled in off the street; you’ve been around the block a few times?

PC:  But you know, ironically, it didn’t even matter.  Because there were guys that auditioned that were just Vegas guys.  Actually the other guitar player in the band, Dave Hornbeck, he has no real track record as far as touring.  He’s just a Vegas guy but he came in and he slammed.  So my track record didn’t, I don’t think helped Brian’s decision at all.  Because if I sucked, I wouldn’t have gotten the gig, ya know?

DS:  Okay, so first I want to talk to you a little bit about what you are doing here in the show and what it’s been like working with Brian and getting into their (Queen’s) catalog.  And we’ll end up with some of your experiences here with the show and what’s going to happen later on in the run.  So what do you do?  Are you first guitar, and what does that mean?

PC:  Actually I’m second guitar.  I was first guitar.

DS:  Oh my.  Did I break a bad story?

PC:  No, no.  Not at all.  First guitar and second guitar, both chairs are just as difficult and just as challenging.  It’s just a way to divide the guitar parts.  One doesn’t have precedence over the other.  I got moved to guitar two because guitar two has the "Bo Rap" (Bohemian Rhapsody) solo, it has the "We Will Rock You" solo and the "Killer Queen "solo and Brian wanted me to play those.  That’s the only reason.  Um, I’m sorry, did I answer the question?

DS:  What do you do as second guitar?  What’s your job?

PC:  Yeah, I just, hm, Brian’s parts are really crazy you know?  I mean he stacks and layers guitars everywhere so two guitar players are needed.  Myself and Dave, we just go back and forth answering each other.  My day, I guess I start, I wake up and I’m usually playing guitar all day anyway, at home in my own studio.  I get here about half hour or 45 minutes prior to playing and I always stop in at the merchandise store and I watch the videos.  It puts me in the mood, it puts me in the frame of mind because you know, I really respect Brian so much, and when I get up there and I plug in, first its all about Brian for me.  I want to make sure that I’m respecting the chair and the position he gave me and I want to play my ass off for him, you know?  So I plug in, I think about Brian and I play the best I can. 

DS:  Well, that’s all anyone can do.

PC:  Yeah.

DS:  What does it feel like to audition for a guitar legend?  That must have been wild.

PC:  That was . . . terrifying.

DS:  (laughs) I can only imagine.

PC:  I auditioned for Meatloaf and Anthrax.  It was nothing like auditioning for this.  I don’t know why – it was terrifying. 

DS:  Did Brian do anything to put you at ease?

PC:  Oh yeah, he’s such a great, beautiful, gracious guy.  Have you met him yet?

DS:  I’ve not met him yet, but I understand he’s a fairly benevolent person.

PC:  He’s so wonderful.  He rocks!  But there were 57 guitar players.

DS:  57 guys all wanting the same gig.

PC:  Yeah, and I remember we were in New Zealand with Meatloaf, finishing up a tour, an 18 month tour, and Patti Russo, who’s Killer Queen, she’s been friends with Brian for a long time.  She heard that they were opening this – they were auditioning.  So John Miceli the drummer and I, we were like, holy cow.  We emailed Spike, who’s the MD (music director) in London, and he got us in touch with Michael Gill who’s general manager here.  Okay, so we get here on a Thursday night, audition is Friday.  I go in and I play for about five minutes.  They just stop me and they say can you come back Monday.  Great - yeah, so I stayed here the whole weekend in Vegas with my girlfriend.

DS:  In Vegas with nothing to do?

PC:  Yeah, nothing to do.  Boring, right?  And then Monday came around and we’re all put in this big room and there are probably 30 guitar players now, at this point.  Brian May came walking in – HOLY COW, you know?  Roger Taylor – HOLY COW!  They just started lining bands up.  They just assembled bands.  Okay, drums, you on drums, you on bass, you on guitar one, that kind of thing.  And they just went through and they made six or seven bands and they just kept narrowing it down.  So I performed Monday, we did "One Vision", and "Who Wants to Live Forever", those two songs.  We did that and it was very professional.  Brian had no emotion.  He’s like, "thank you very much for coming".  That’s all it was.  I’m like, okay, I didn’t think I got the gig.  I was really excited just to meet him.  Like wow, I got to play for Brian, you know?  Okay, so I did my gig and I went right to the tequila bar and did a couple of shots to take the edge off.

DS:  I think I would have needed a shot or two about then!

PC:  Right.  And about 15 minutes later my phone rang, my cell phone.  "Hey Paul, can you stay another day?"  I’m like, yeah!

DS:  Right on!

PC:  And then the next day comes around and now there’s only like four guitar players.  So we get in the same routine.  They took the other guys first, and then I go up.  "One Vision" has a 5 second intro and Mike Dixon, the conductor, he starts it off and as the song starts, Brian stands up from across the room and walks over to me.  And he stands right in front of me as I’m about to start the song.  I’m thinking shit, why is he doing this to me?  I’m sweating bullets here.  So I start the song and he’s walking around and he’s right here (motions to the neck of a guitar) and he’s right here. 

DS:  Oh my God!

PC:  Yeah, I’m freaking out and then the solo comes, I’ve got to do a solo and he bends down and looks right at my neck (of the guitar) as I’m playing the solo. 

DS:  No pressure here.

PC:  I’m like, why are you doing this to me man? 

DS:  If you can survive that, you can survive just about anything man.  Kudos.

PC:  So then the song ended and he says, really politely, “You know, I couldn’t hear you as well as I did last night.”  I said, “Oh I’m sorry, I’ll turn up for the next song.  He goes, “Nah, sit down.  I know what you can do.”  So I’m thinking I’m doomed.  So you know, then I go home and five days later I get a phone call – want to come to Vegas?  I’m like, right on!  At that point I was guitar one, so you were right.  Brian thought that those solos were the guitar one book and then he realized, oh, I made a mistake, I want Paul to play these solos, so I was moved to guitar two. 

DS:  So you got the gig!  How do you prepare?  How do you dive into Queen’s catalog?  How do you prepare for all of this?

PC:  I’ll tell you, as soon as I got the phone call, I started wood shedding.  I played eight hours a day for three months.

DS:  So you had three months to get ready?

PC:  Yeah, March was the auditions and I wasn’t due out here until July.  I played constantly.  In my truck it was Queen, it was Queen everything and I worked my ass off.  But by the time I got to rehearsals, I could have played the whole London show, no problem. 

DS:  I saw the London show, it was fab.

PC:  Yeah I did too. 

DS:  What’s it like going from being in front, being in a rock band in the center of the action, to being more behind the scenes?  Its got to be different for you, cause you’re not getting that energy feeding back to you.

PC:  You know, its completely different.  Its really, really, weird, but at the same time I enjoy it because I can really just . . .

DS:  Concentrate on your music?

PC:  No, I can fuck off.  I can really just fuck off.  You know, I’m looking, I’m sitting there and we’re just having a great time with the band.

DS:  Having a sip of your beer . . .

PC:  Yeah, you know, whatever it is.  No alcohol allowed in the theatre.  But we can talk amongst the band and I’m not worrying about how I’m looking, I’m not worrying about how I’m performing, so like you said, I can sit there and I can really zone in on playing as tight as possible and I get off on that.  I get off on that.

DS:  That’s what I would have thought would be the best part about being in the band area.

PC:  Yeah, I get off on kind of messing around with John the drummer, playing ahead or behind the pocket because you’re so focused you can do that.  You’re not worried about running over to that point to make a statement, or banging your head over here, you know?  The other part is, being that there is a curtain; we don’t see the audience, so you end up really playing for each other – the eight of us.  I love this band.

DS:  So it’s kind of like an intimate jam session really.

PC:  Yeah, and all we’re doing, we’re just trying to play the best we can for each other when we’re up there.  I’m always thinking about Brian, don’t get me wrong.  This is Brian May and I respect his chair so much.  I’m going to play my ass off every night, but it’s for the guys too.  You want to make sure that you’re hitting it, because you don’t want to embarrass the guys.  You just want to be the best you can because the guys up there are incredible musicians.  Just incredible.

DS:  Not only that, but you’ve got Queen fans, like old buzzards like me from back in the day, who actually saw Queen live . . .

PC:  Right on!

DS:  We’ve just kind of been starving out here to hear that music live again.  This isn’t a cover band.  These are people chosen, selected personally by Brian, by Roger.

PC:  What an honor.

DS:  For sure.  I mean, you’ve got these Queen fans out there and they’re like hey, Freddie’s dead, the band is done, but I’m still going to hear live Queen music tonight.  What a thrill. 

PC:  It’s great.  Yeah, I wish I could hear it out front but I haven’t been able to.  So I don’t know what it sounds like out there. 

DS:  Well I was here in September, when the show first got started in Las Vegas, and I had just come from London and I had been at the London show and you know, people are wild at the London show.  Everybody’s up, everybody’s rocking.  They’ve got their lighters . . . they’re doing the Radio GaGa clap and stuff.

PC:  Yeah, I enjoyed that. 

DS:  But when I was here, it had just gotten started and people were just sitting in their seats.  I’m like, hello!  Come on, let’s party.

PC:  How weird is that?

DS:  I know.  It freaked me out.

PC:  It was great when the Queen fan club showed up.  Oh, that was the best.  The crowd was so crazy!

DS:  When did they come?

PC:  Opening week.  And then the Meatloaf fan club showed up and that was great too.

DS:  What’s the most difficult song in the catalog to play?

PC:  "No One But You".  It’s a ballad and technically, it’s a piece of cake but dynamically it is unbelievable.  It was so hard just to get the whole band on the same page.  There’s such dynamic parts coming up and down and as a unit, that was the hardest song.  On a technical end, probably "The Seven Seas of Rye" is really difficult on guitar. 

DS:  Yeah, I would have picked that one I think.

PC:  That’s a tough one. 

DS:  Are you copying Brian’s style?  Are you trying to copy it exactly or are you putting your own twist on things?

PC:  It depends on the song.  Things like "Bo Rap" or "We Will Rock You" I try to play as exact as I can.  Exact to my ability.  The think about Brian is his vibrato, the way shakes his string is so unbelievable passionate.  I could never . . . I’m no where near his passion.  And I don’t know how he gets there.  It’s amazing.

DS:  Do you ever wonder as a band, are we in the same place as they were?  How do we get ourselves in that place?

PC:  Yeah, that’s what I was talking about with "No One But You".  It took so long for all of us to get in that same area.  But on a guitar standpoint, its completely different because he (Brian) is such an incredible player that I’m maybe there once a year, where every time he plugs that thing in, he’s there.  I don’t know how he does it.  It freaks me out.  He’ll plug in and hit one note and he’ll make me cry, you know? 

DS:  There is only one Brian May.

PC:  Yeah, he’s incredible.  Definitely he’s what?  Top ten in the world ever.

DS:  I remember being in the audience though, in September, hearing you play and thinking wow, he nailed that part.

PC:  Oh right on, thanks.

DS:  Yeah, you nail those parts.  I’d have to say that you shred and you do Brian proud. 

PC:  Well you know, that’s me and Dave, depending on the solo.  Like Dave plays "Crazy Little Thing Called Love".  Dave plays that song. 

DS:  I was thinking particularly of "Bo Rap". 

PC:  Yeah, that’s mine.

DS:  Did Brian offer you any kind of tips once you got the part?  Have you gotten a chance to work with him much? 

PC:  Yeah, I have discovered a Brian May weakness.

DS:  Oh-oh, do you want me to stop the tape?

PC:  No, no I love this.  I figured it out.  All I have to do is turn my amp on in this room and if he’s anywhere in ear shot he gets drawn to it.  He has to come in.

DS:  Ha!  Fire her up!

PC:  I know.  And so I just, if I know he’s in town, I’ll just come down here and play guitar here and I’ll turn my amp up and he has to walk in.  And when he walks in, we’ll play for three or four hours at a shot.

DS:  Unbelievable!

PC:  Yeah and he’s shown me everything.  Every little nuance, everything.  The way he fingers every chord, every song, he’s shown me everything.  We spent several weeks together, just playing guitar. 

DS:  What an incredible experience you are taking away from this gig.

PC:  Yeah, I can die happy right now.

DS:  Are you playing with a sixpence coin?

PC:  (laughs)  I tried but I can’t do it.  But to make up for it, I’m using metal picks.  Just to get the attack.  I can’t do the sixpence.  I can’t control it like he does.  I tried so hard!

DS:  Working with Brian and with Roger, did anything surprise you about those two?  Did you think anything about them before you met them and now you just kind of say wow, I had that wrong?

PC:  There is no ego.  Not even the slightest bit of ego with these guys.  They have so much respect just for lack of a better word, for the brotherhood of musicians, God, just the sweetest guys you could ever meet. 

DS:  Tell me that they’re fun.  I want to know that they are fun. 

PC:  Incredible.  We were drinking last night until 2:00 a.m.  I got ripped on tequila. 

DS:  Good, because you would have shattered my world if you said they were no fun. 

PC:  Oh they’re a lot of fun and Roger is a trip.  He has me in hysterics. 

DS:  He’s got that dry wit that I really love.

PC:  Yeah, he is funny. 

DS:  What’s been the most memorable moment so far doing these shows?

PC:  The rehearsal for the opening night party.  We were at a rehearsal studio across town and I walk in the room and there’s, wow, Brian May’s rig and the red special guitar.  The original guitar he owns.  It really hit me at that point.  I was like, wow.  And they come in, Roger Taylor comes in, Brian comes in and Steve Lukather came in and we started playing songs.  I’ll never forget "Stone Cold Crazy", cause that’s my favorite Queen song.  Brian started the feedback on it and it actually brought tears to my eyes.  I was in the room and I’m like, oh my God, I’m actually playing this.  Roger kicked it in and that was the most incredible moment, I think, of my whole career.  Just sitting in that small room with those guys. 

DS:  That’s something you will definitely never forget.  What an experience.  When I was watching the show in London and then again here in Las Vegas, I was wondering to myself, would Freddie be proud of this show?  I could almost feel Freddie smiling down on this and saying “Yeah, this is my style.”  What do you think?  Do you think Freddie is proud of these productions?

PC:  Totally.  How could he not?  Its beautiful.  I don’t know what else to say.

DS:  No words huh?

PC:  It’s a beautiful thing.  This totally celebrates Freddie’s life. 

DS:  What do you think of the upcoming Queen tour?

PC:  Oh, I just . . . I was talking to Brian about it last night.  They better come to the States.

DS:  Take me with you . . .

PC:  I know, I would just love to be his roadie for it. 

DS:  I would too.  I’d tune his guitars all day.

PC:  Please come to the States!

DS:  I hope they come to the States.

PC:  Brian is really excited about Paul Rogers.  He says he does things to the songs that are just incredible.  He makes them his own without destroying the legacy of what Freddie Mercury is.

DS:  Its bound to be a little controversial. 

PC:  It already is.  I’m hoping that Deacon decides to come into it.

DS:  I think that would be so incredible.  He’s just kind of been laying low for a long time and that’s his prerogative.  He’s worked really hard and if he wants to retire, God bless him.  But I think that with John Deacon aboard it will really feel like Queen is back.  Not with Freddie.  Not the same, but Queen is back, and as close as anyone in this generation is ever going to come. 

PC:  Totally.  There’s no reason why they shouldn’t do it.  They are Queen.  I don’t care about these people writing in with negative comments.

DS:  For the record, that was Paul’s middle finger.

PC:  Let them play.  Freddie is unfortunately gone.

DS:  And you know what?  There’s never going to be another Freddie.

PC:  Yeah, and they’re not trying to replace him.

DS:  There’s no one on Earth like him anymore, so why bother?

PC:  So let them play.

DS:  I can’t imagine it dying with three musicians with all of that still in them.  You would be surprised at the demographic, the age range of Queen fans.  There’s a whole uprising in high school age kids that are Queen fans that are just so hungry to hear the roots, the real stuff from back in the 70s and 80s.

PC:  You know even the kids, the guitar players, they hear "Bo Rap" or "Brighten Rock" and they want to play it.  Brian has touched every guitar player alive and every guitar player who’s about to play he’s touched.  All these young kids.

DS:  Speaking of every guitar player, I think you were probably a good friend of Dimebag’s.

PC:  Yeah, he was one of my really good friends.  I was at the funeral on Tuesday.  I flew up to Dallas for it.

DS:  What a tragic story.

PC:  Its horrific.  Its brutal.

DS:  It occurred to me that there is kind of a parallel of tragedy.  Freddie’s death, and then in a completely different way, Dimebag’s death.  And its kind of scary.  What do you think this is going to do to musicians who are still going out there on stage every night?

PC:  I tell you, at this ceremony, the memorial ceremony at the convention center in Arlington, I was in the VIP room and every metal band that you could think of was there.  We were all there, just sharing our Dimebag stories because he touched all of us.  Everybody is buckling down on security.  There’s no more stage diving now, which is such a big part of metal, you know?  Kids come on stage and they’ll bang their heads and they’ll jump off and its great.  Its fun.  Not any more.  I was just hanging out with Slayer on Wednesday night at the House of Blues and they have security stacked on both sides now.  Nobody is allowed on stage.  Anybody comes close to the stage and they’re knocked out.  Its changed everything.

DS:  Its pretty bad that you’ve got to worry about stuff like that.  That’s what the world is coming to, but I hope it doesn’t put a damper on people’s creative spirit and their need to go out and play and feel the energy of the crowd.  I hope it doesn’t overshadow that because that is what being a musician is all about.

PC:  Oh Dimebag.  What an incredible person he was.  There’s a real funny story, we were on tour in North America and we were hanging out at a hotel.  We were in the hallway of the hotel sitting on the floor, on the rug.  I don’t know why, we were just sitting on the rug.  Had a bottle of Crown Royal, which was Dimebag’s favorite thing – whiskey.  And there were three of us.  It was me, Dime and his buddy Bobby.  And we started talking about the music biz and money and stuff and he says to me, he called me Kavorkian, Dr. Kavorkian.  He said “you know Kavorkian, I just hope that I have enough money to get a new liver when this is all over.”  And that’s Dimebag.  That was him.

DS:  You know, if you’ve got the money, go for it!  Yeah, he’ll be missed.  I think we should put his name in the “Only The Good Die Young” sequence in the show.

PC:  You know, I was talking to Brian about it, there’s that sequence in the show for" No One But You" when they show Randy Rhodes and Stevie Ray Vaughn and he’s going to do the best he can to get Dimebag in that sequence.

DS:  Yeah, well, he belongs there.  That’s a fitting tribute.

PC:  That song is completely different for me now when I play it. 

DS:  I’m sure it is. 

PC:  On Friday of last week, it’s the first time I played it after I heard about the shooting and I broke down up on stage up there.  I just lost it as I was playing it. 

DS:  Well, I’m sorry to end our interview on such a down note. 

PC:  That’s okay.  We’re celebrating.  Celebrating Dimebag’s life.  And Freddie.

DS:  And with Freddie, as long as you guys are up there doing your thing and paying tribute, Freddie lives and Queen’s music lives and as a big Queen fan, I thank you.

PC:  Thank you and thank Brian, Roger and Ben (Elton).   Learn more about Paul at

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