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reprinted without permission from
Guitar Player - May 1987
DAVID + DAVID
"This music doesn't exist for guitar solos. I simply
want the guitar to have its proper place in the tunes.
You can do so much with rhythm guitar texturally..."
David Ricketts (quote at beginning of article)
Among the loser-who-would-be-winners who populate the Boomtown [A&M, SP 6-5134] of David + David's debut
album are "bad guitar players and dewy-eyed teenage dragonslayers." David Ricketts, the creator of the
impressionistic musical backdrop that supports singer/ lyricist David Baerwald's hard-eyed character studies,
knows all about those adolescent dreamers bearing 6-string broad-swords. He's been there.
"Back around 1971 when I was learning to play, I had a typical adolescent attitude," Ricketts
recalls. "Guitar players were like the guys with the brightest feathers--kind of like being the quarterback
on the high school football team. At that age I was more interested in showing off than playing what was
necessary for good music."
Now, at age 33, the Philadelphia native is doing his best to distance himself from the guitar-
star mentality that seemed so attractive when he first picked up the instrument in high school. Taking his
cue from guitarists as disparate as Robert Fripp and the soul rhythmatists from his hometown, Ricketts
prefers to keep his playing a fully integrated element of David + David's songs, rather than strut his stuff
A multi-instrumentalist who performed and composed the lion's share of the music on the LP,
Ricketts is first and foremost a guitarist, though he uses the instrument to provide color and aura rather
than as a conventional lead voice.
"When I was younger I thought of myself as a 'guitar player,'" he says. "Now with playing all the
other instruments, I want the guitar to simply have its proper place in the tunes rather than be a solo
instrument. And when it is a solo instrument, it's only when the song calls for it. This material doesn't
exist as a vehicle for guitar solos, which is kind of different. I don't tend to write guitar parts unless
they're there. A lot of times I just back off or do a really pleasant minimum instead of worrying about
finding places for the guitar player in the song, which I did when I was younger. On 'Ain't So Easy'
there's hardly any guitar at all.
"I was actually trying to write music for a play, in some surreal sense, rather than trying to do
a pop tune," he says of the music on Boomtown, explaining that it was originally devised by him alone
with keyboards and guitars in his living room, and then recreated in a studio under the direction of
producer Davitt Sigerson.
Perhaps the best example of Ricketts' approach can be heard on "Welcome To The Boomtown," the album's lead
track and first single. Though Ricketts considers the song "a guitar thing," it takes concerted listening to
perceive just how central the guitar is to the song's seductive textures.
The key element is the almost drone-like sustain that characterizes the guitar. "To get that
sound we put it through a Rockman and a Boss flanger and compressor," he says. "But since it didn't sound
like the demos I'd made at home, we ended up using my Tascam Portastudio and put that through the
board 'Boomtown' is more a melody than an out-and-out guitar solo. With a sustained kind of sound you can do
that. It's almost more like a violin."
To Ricketts, the creation of such atmospheres is the most important part of his musical
abilities. "There's nothing note-worthy about my playing at all," he laughs when asked what distinctive
techniques he employs. More seriously, he explains, "There's no particular technique I use that
hasn't been seen before. I like my playing because it's me expressing myself. I don't have any tricks
that are like 'Eddie Van Yngwie' or anything."It is here where the Fripp/Philly connection comes
into play--the former contributing the cerebral stimulation, the latter the human warmth. "Fripp's
cold and all that, but he sure has done some innovative things," Ricketts says. "His playing was
some of the ugliest guitar I'd ever heard in my life, but it had this intellect to it. He'd do something
that was blatantly noise, but you knew there was something happening with it. Then he'd go to some
really clean arpeggio. I went to see King Crimson twice back then. The first time was hideous, but the
next time they were doing this completely improvised kind of thing, and they were really good. Fripp was
just kind of going off to outer space with that stuff, and it was great. They were doing what they wanted to
Though seemingly opposite these Fripperies, the Philadelphia soul philosophy played a complementary
role in Ricketts' development. "That influenced me most in my rhythm-section thinking," he says. "The
rhythm guitar is the bottom line in a lot of that stuff--the way it just sits in the groove. It can be
simplest thing, like the things James Brown's guitar player [Jimmy Nolen] would do. I definitely learned
from that. You can do so much with rhythm guitar texturally."
That element is most prominent on Boomtown in the song "Swimming In The Ocean," which sports a
guitar figure that could have been borrowed from the O'Jays. "Ed Greene, the drummer who played on the
album, also played on a lot of Marvin Gaye's records," Ricketts says. "He really got into it on that song.
The two-note bass line creates the groove. That's what I dig so much about it. It doesn't sound like a roots
thing at all, but the bass and drum figures definitely have that Philly taste, though it's unwitting. I
wasn't thinking, 'This is my Philly soul tune.' It just ends up showing its head occasionally."
Fripp and Philly, however, are just two of the elements that figure in Ricketts' musical
sensibilities, which can be traced back to childhood attractions ranging from classical to ragtime to rock.
He began piano lessons at age nine, but found that the "sparkly and skinny" electric guitars that turned
up on such television shows as Shindig and Hullabaloo held an inescapable fascination.
"The way the sound resonated was like nothing I'd ever heard," he recalls. "When Eric Clapton and
Jimi Hendrix came along, I really got curious about playing guitar. I'd never heard distortion and
everything used that way. They were doing these blues licks, but I just thought it was psychedelic. That's
what really kicked it into gear for me."
Guitar lessons at age 15 got him started, and soon he was part of a teen band. "That was a lot of
fun," he says. "We played some of our own stuff and things by people like Mott The Hoople. 'Rock and Roll
Queen' [Mott The Hoople, Atlantic, 8258] was our coolest tune. Doing that was the most blatant musical
fun I've had up until this David + David thing happened."
In fact, that was about the only musical fun Ricketts had before getting together with Baerwald.
Continuing past high school with his Philadelphia band "felt like punching a time clock," and a move to
New York, where he auditioned as a guitar player for many bands, was "a glove that never really fit."
It was a 1979 move to Los Angeles and a job as a set builder for a movie studio that started to turn
the tide. There he met David Baerwald, then a 19-year-old member of a local club band called Sensible Shoes.
After several years of crossing paths, the two decided to explore a working relationship in June 1984.
Baerwald, a blues-grounded player who feels that he "didn't have the right" to play the blues,
proved quite compatible with Ricketts, who had been searching futilely for a satisfying musical outlet
since leaving high school. The pair made a tape of their songs and naively sent it out to record company
representatives. Astoundingly, the approach worked. "It was amazing how quick it happened,"
recalls Baerwald. "Three weeks after we started working together, we got a call from A&M. I just
thought,'Well, they've given us the ball. All we have to do is make something happen with it.'"
In general, Baerwald provides the words to Ricketts' music, but the rules are far from written in
stone. "Dave is definitely the predominant musician," acknowledges Baerwald of his counterpart. "I just try
to add ethnic American touches like Dobro, mandolin, and Buddy Guy guitar licks to bridge the gap between
Adrian Belew and Robert Johnson."
Baerwald's instrumental contributions to the album varied in nature from song to song. "I played
nothing on 'Boomtown,' while on 'Swallowed By The Cracks' I played about three-fourths of the guitar,"
he says. "On 'Heroes' I played mandolin, Dobro, lap steel [an acknowledged Ry Cooder influence is
particularly evident] and on 'Ain't So Easy,' I did lap steel and 6-string." He also took the lead on the
reggaeish "Being Alone Together." Baerwald considers the lap steel solo at the end of "River's Gonna Rise,"
his "crowning moment on the album." Not wishing to overstate his role, however, he hastens to stress
that "this is all after the fact. Basically the songs are established and I just do ornamentations.
"Dave covers the bases so well that there isn't much need for me to do anything at all,"
Baerwald says in summing up the balance of power between the two. He adds that in future live
performances, he may not play any guitar and just concentrate on being the singer; front man. "If we
were doing more blues and country there would be a need, because that's where my inclinations lie.
Hopefully more of that will come out as we continue to work together, because that's a natural extension of
what I listen to and my background. And Dave's such a natural groove player that it's a good way for us to
work as guitarists."
David + David - Equipment
By Steve Hochman
On stage David Ricketts is exclusively a guitar player, and he relies totally on a custom Stratocaster-
like guitar that looks like it must be a vintage classic. "Actually, I've only had it about four
years," he confesses. "It's just the way I sweat when I play. Clapton always looked cool like that. I had it
custom-built at Image Guitars, which is now Guitars R Us in Hollywood . You couldn't buy a vintage reissue
Stratocaster then, and I didn't have a zillion dollars to spend on a '56 that would hum like hell anyway,
even though it would sound great."
Ricketts also owns a'62 Fender Strat reissue, an '80 Gibson Les Paul Custom, and an old Fender
Precision bass. Though he plays little acoustic either on record or stage, he does own a Guild F-50, which
can be heard on the song "Heroes."
His playing is restricted to a Fender heavy flatpick without using the other fingers on his right
hand. "I actually can make it sound like fingerpicking,"he says, claiming that using only a
pick brings "more depth" to the sound. He uses package sets of Dean Markley medium-gauge strings on his
guitars and Rotosounds on the bass.
To create his wide range of sounds, Ricketts employs a set of Boss effects-including a flanger, a
compressor, and a chorus--as well as a Roland SRV-2000 digital reverb, a Roland SDE-2500 digital delay, and a
Yamaha SPX90 multi-effects processor. Onstage he has his setup ending at a Seymour Duncan Convertible amp.
For studio work, his favorite amp is the Rockman. "Those things are a blast," he states. "You
put on the headphones and have such a good time. That's what I used on the demos. You don't have to
mike them. We used it a lot on the album, too. I've also got an old Fender Deluxe that we used."
Baerwald's collection of instruments includes a Fender Telecaster and a Stratocaster, a vintage
Dobro, Rickenbacker lap steel, a pre-World War II Naomi Hawaiian guitar ("It's got little Hawaiian
dancing girls all over it"), and a Gibson Chet Atkins electric classical guitar.
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