If you think your life is busy, take a look at Dizzy Reed’s recent agenda: As the main keyboard player in Guns N Roses, he has been touring hard all over the world for the past few years. He just finished up playing with the Dead Daisies on the Uproar Festival tour, with a few stops here and there to write and record some new songs with them. His band Hookers & Blow are playing every Monday night in October at the infamous Whisky A Go Go in Hollywood. He has another side band called The Dick Pistols. And on top of all that, he has some music that he is itching to release as a solo record. And that’s only his public life. When he is not making music, he is a husband and father, loves playing golf and on the day we had our conversation, his apartment was in the middle of a renovation.
But Reed is definitely enjoying every minute of his life. The shy kid who was raised in Colorado and followed his passion to California, has been in GNR over twenty years; a fact that not many people realize. He first played on the Use Your Illusion sister records and toured the world amidst a massive wave of popularity. No band on the face of the Earth at that time was bigger than Guns N Roses. And although the band has seen all original members sans Axl leave for newer pastures, Reed has continued to thrive with each incarnation of the group, becoming more involved with songwriting and the evolution of songs. It is something he takes a lot of pride in and absolutely shines during his signature piano spotlights. I actually found his chilling evocation of Led Zeppelin’s “No Quarter” one of the main highlights of their Las Vegas residency last November. “You should tell that to the guy from Vegas Weekly,” Reed said with a laugh. “I never read reviews but I happened to pick up that one and the first thing I saw was, ‘No one paid money to see Dizzy Reed play ‘No Quarter.’’
In a fun yet honest interview, Reed takes us on a journey from his childhood through GNR to his latest adventures with the Dead Daisies, and how life feels pretty good for the once-quiet young man tapping out tunes on his grandmother’s organ.
You just finished playing on the Uproar Festival tour with the Dead Daisies. What do you remember most?
I think every show was just really great and it was just a great hang, hanging with all the other bands, cause a lot of them are friends of mine, some of them I’ve been in bands with before. One thing that I kind of remember is we were in Boise and that show actually got cancelled and we were sitting on the bus just getting hailed on from this massive storm that was pretty intense. But we ended up having a really good time. We drank all the booze in the fridge and had people on the bus and just made the best of it.
I covered your show in Phoenix where the temperature was 103 or 104.
Yes, Phoenix was unbearably hot and that’s all I really remember (laughs). In Phoenix, it was so hot that all the black keys on my keyboard were burning my fingers and my mic was burning my lips. That’s how hot it was. But it was a lot of fun.
Which of the newer bands did you enjoy watching?
You know, they were all great. There was one band in particular, though, called Beware Of Darkness, and I think they’re going to be awesome. They have that certain thing that you need to really make it and have the longevity. I think they had a cool thing happening. Hopefully, they’ll keep rocking and people need to check them out. They’re pretty awesome.
The Dead Daisies seemed to pop up out of nowhere but have been steadily building a big following. How did you get involved with them?
You know, when Guns N Roses were in Australia touring, Richard Fortus was doing some shows with them on our off days. When he told me who was in the band, he said, “You know, Marco Mendoza is playing bass,” and I’ve met Marco before, we’ve jammed together a few times and I always wanted to do something with him. And Richard said that Jon Stevens is singing and I said, “You’re kidding, I know Jon.” I’d met Jon some years ago when he was in INXS and I just thought he was amazing and we totally hit it off, you know. We hung out after the show and we talked about doing something maybe somewhere down the line. And they said Charley Drayton was playing drums and I’ve always wanted to play with Charley, so I said, “Dude, you guys need a keyboard player?” (laughs). But their production manager is also a real good friend of mine so I know that when they made plans to do the Uproar tour, I know that my name was kind of hovering about. So Richard called me and they wanted me to come on board and I said, “Absolutely, for sure.”
Has it been fun hanging out with all those guys?
Yeah, that’s the thing. It’s like, I know those guys and they’re great guys and they’re guys I don’t mind being on a bus with all the time. And that’s kind of important, you know. If you don’t have that vibe together, man, if you can’t hang together, it can be a long tour. So at this point in my career, it’s kind of like, that’s the important thing. If it’s not like that, I’d think twice about doing it.
Richard and Jon said that you guys have been doing some recording. How has that been going and what have you been contributing?
Well, I contribute a lot of jokes (laughs). No, I pretty much do whatever I can. I’ve been working in recording studios and writing songs and stuff for different people, for Guns N Roses, for a very, very long time. So I kind of do whatever I can. But yeah, we wrote some new songs and then we jumped off the tour for a couple days in New York and tracked them and then we finished them up here in LA; actually we just finished yesterday. And I got to say, it’s pretty exciting stuff. I think people are really going to dig it.
Would you say the sound of the songs is similar or different from the album that is currently out?
The songs that we have out now, I love the songs, I think they’re great. That was another factor that made me want to go on tour with them. But I think maybe now they’re a little bit heavier and I think we went in more as a band. And when you have that energy, when you’ve been touring if you can capture that energy in the studio that you have live, I think it’s a big positive, a plus, and it’s going to be a better record. And I think we definitely captured that.
You’ve been doing this for a long time. When you were a kid and you were dreaming about being a rock star, how similar was that fantasy back then to the actual reality that you are living now?
You know, it’s nothing like what my fantasy was (laughs). The reality is I got into this business, wanted to do this, cause I really didn’t want to go to work every day. I didn’t want to have a nine-to-five job, you know. I wanted to wake up every morning and do something that I enjoy, which I do. But, to have any sort of longevity in this business and to be able to continue to do it, to be at the top of your game, you basically never stop working. I work now constantly. There is always something going on that is music related, business related, so I’m working a lot more than I ever thought I would. But at the same time, I’m doing something that I love and that’s cool. My kids are growing up now, I got divorce but I’m married again, so as life goes on, the dream changes basically. When you’re living the dream, it’s really not the dream you had. It never is.
Was it hard being a father and being a professional musician?
Oh yeah, I mean, it’s tough for anyone who has been through that, who travels for a living. It’s definitely tough, and I was always kind of worried that I wasn’t there for my kids as much as I could have been, should have been, but I was working and I think now that they’re older, and we’ve talked about that and they understand that. They understood why Daddy was gone all the time. But it’s definitely tough. You miss them and you try to visit them, they’d come out and visit whenever they can. But the road is no place for kids, unfortunately, unless you are super-duper rich and can create an environment for them that is healthy and productive. But that’s not easy to do.
Are they interested in being musicians?
I have a son who’s been in a few bands. I think he’s in-between bands right now, he’s trying to find something. My youngest, she graduated high school, but she’ll be seventeen this month, and she wants to be a singer so I’ve been writing some songs with her. Hopefully, we’ll put something out pretty soon. She’s been performing. You know, it’s something that I wouldn’t recommend for kids to get into, in this field, especially the way things are now. But at the same time, if my parents had not supported me, where would I be? So I kind of feel like I owe it to my kids to at least give it a shot if they want, to give them the knowledge that I can, pass on some of what I’ve learned over the last thirty-five years. You nurture them however you can and try to point them in the right direction. I’ve been very blessed. All four of my kids are awesome.
What is the hardest thing about performing live?
Just trying to remember how the songs go. Trying not to drink too much (laughs). You know, I love performing, I really do, and my dad always asks me sometimes, “Are you still enjoying it?” And that just kind of puts it in perspective cause sometimes you just get wrapped up in all the little things and you jump on what I like to call “the complain train” and it’s a way of venting. But you’ve got to take a step back when you start getting to that mindset and look at the big picture and realize, and I know for myself I’m still playing music after all these years and still lucky to do it, but that being said, at this stage of my life, I can’t do anything else (laughs). It’s all I really know.
Is it different playing clubs as opposed to playing arenas?
No, no, I still play clubs. I have my own band and we do some of my songs. And I have a band called Hookers & Blow. I play around LA with a band called the Starfuckers and another band called the Dick Pistols. Like I said, I’m playing clubs and then I’m playing arenas and festivals. I’ve played in front of 300,000 people before and I recently played in front of five people. So it’s all the same. You just kind of realize that when those people who bought a ticket to see you play that you sort of have an obligation at that point to perform for them. Sometimes when I just really don’t feel like doing it, if I’m down and out or if I’m sick, when you get on stage something clicks and you get that energy and adrenalin and once again, you just try to put it in perspective: I could be stacking bricks for a living but I’m doing this. And you enjoy it.
You played a magical rendition of “No Quarter” during GNR’s Vegas residency last year. Why that song?
Well, Axl started asking me to do that little segment some time ago on tours in that part of the show. And he kind of threw it at me last minute, you know. So I would just go out there and play what I felt like playing and then sometimes I would work up a song depending on where we were at. Like we were in Sweden and I played the song “SOS” by ABBA cause they’re a Swedish band and it worked. Everyone was singing along and then I started working it out a little more. But I’ve changed it up a little bit over the years. I try not to do the same song at the same place the next time. If we were coming to the States, I probably wouldn’t play that song again. But it’s just a great Zeppelin keyboard song. I like to have the band sort of come in, at least the drummer, and if you just mention Led Zeppelin to pretty much any drummer they’ll get excited (laughs). I told Frank Ferrer and he said, “Hell yeah I’ll play on it.” But yeah, I just kind of pulled it out of my hat and thought I’d do that one.
Where did you grow up?
Well, I was born in Chicago and when I was eight years old my family moved to a place called Boulder, Colorado. So I grew up there. A great city. Unfortunately, it’s under a lot of water right now, as are most of the cities along the front range of the Rocky Mountains there. But it was a great place to grow up. It was sort of a cultural little mecca in the middle of Colorado. It was a great place to grow up and discover music and some of the bands that spent time there or came out of there, like Joe Walsh and Tommy Bolan and The Eagles, during that time when I grew up, I think that atmosphere helped me really decide that I wanted to do this.
How did you first get into playing music?
I started playing when I was a kid. My grandparents lived in an apartment above us and my grandma had an organ. They were always watching us, babysitting us, and I’d beat on this organ all the time, make noise, and one day she asked me to play a song and I watched her play it and I played it back. So she sort of nurtured me along and kept teaching me different songs. I started getting into rock music and one day my dad put on a record by this band called Booker T & The MGs, which is all instrumental stuff with organ and a great band behind him. And I made the connection that that’s the instrument that I play, so I can play rock music. And then I discovered Deep Purple and then I started playing piano. My folks bought me a Wurlitzer electric piano and I started playing in a band when I was twelve. By the time we were fifteen, we were touring around, playing all over that area. And I never looked back.
Do you remember the first time you got on stage and performed in front of an audience?
Oh absolutely. I was in the sixth grade. I was with a band called the Hairy Bananas, my first band, and we did “Smoke On The Water” by Deep Purple. And I had this little instrument that my grandmother had given me. It had this little pencil thing and a keyboard on it and you touched it and it made musical notes. And we thought that sounded cool. So I had that and I held it up to the microphone. There was one mic and we were all singing, we didn’t really have any concept of band line-ups and singers and guitar players. So since I had the mic and I was singing, everyone heard me singing and thought I was the lead singer. When we finished our song, all the girls were screaming for us. And that was pretty much when I realized, I want to keep doing this (laughs)
I was a very shy, sort of reclusive kid. I had had a bunch of surgery on my mouth because of an accident so I had like a speech impediment, so that was my way of being able to sort of get noticed and to communicate, really, through music and poetry and writing and whatnot. I became good at that because I couldn’t speak very well.
What kind of accident did you have?
I crashed my bicycle into a curve and landed on my face (laughs). I was eight and I wasn’t actually all fixed till I was almost twenty years old. It was pretty bad. But then a couple of the guys from that original band, we decided we wanted to get serious about it and we just started learning and practicing everything we could, and playing wherever we could. So we started touring when we were about fifteen.
When you started getting into music when you were a kid, was there a certain musician or rock star that you wanted to be?
I think I really wanted to be like Mick Jagger, like everybody did, cause he was just really cool, looked cool. The Stones were my favorite band. But he also sang stuff that I could sing and the Stones played versions of their songs that we could play. They never played them the same as the studio versions a lot of times so I had that realization and that was pretty cool. But the keyboard player in Lynyrd Skynyrd, Billy Powell, he was a god to me. And Jon Lord from Deep Purple, Elton John of course, and I’m sure I’m leaving out a whole bunch of people, but those guys were my heroes. I wanted to be like them.
When you first joined Guns N Roses, what was the most difficult thing about jumping into a band that was already so enormously popular?
The most difficult thing was just trying to gain acceptance. First, by the band, because Axl really wanted me in the band and he said that was the way it was going to be. You know, we had been talking about it for a few years before that, before they became big, actually, and I think the other guys weren’t really as keen on the idea of having a sixth guy in the band. When I joined it was still all five original guys. But I think over time they started to realize that I could contribute to the music and I wasn’t that bad of a guy to be around (laughs). And they realized I wasn’t going anywhere, basically, and so slowly I started gaining acceptance by them. But then it took a long time for a lot of the fans to really accept the fact that I was in the band. Quite a few years, actually. But now it’s been twenty-three years and I’m still in the band.
Do you regret that you didn’t go to the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame induction ceremony?
No, I don’t regret it. You know, myself and Axl and Izzy, we made a decision. There’s still some things I don’t understand about it. There was opposition regarding a performance and having the current line-up perform, which to me was just ridiculous because Tommy Stinson has been in the band for like sixteen years. And Richard Fortus has been in the band for twelve years. Basically, most of those guys have been a member of Guns N Roses longer than the guys who were there. So that didn’t make any sense to me. I didn’t understand who was behind that or why that had to be like that.
But I want to say this: Being accepted into the Hall Of Fame and being told I was going to be accepted into the Hall Of Fame, I’m very honored to have my name mentioned along with all the other artists that are in the Hall Of Fame and I don’t take that for granted. And personally, I don’t think I’m worthy. But it was an honor to be told that. But then again, the line-up issues and that we could each only bring one guest. If there are any other guests, I’d have to pay full price for tickets and it’s not cheap. So it was like, well, I can take my mom but not my dad. I could take my wife but not my son. I could take one of my kids. I could take my brother but not my best friend. I don’t know, I’m scratching my head: Where does that money go? (laughs) Does Rod Stewart or Meatloaf have that problem? So yeah, there were just some things that I didn’t quite understand that couldn’t be answered, so I had good reason to do what I did. It is what it is and I don’t regret it.
How has recording with Guns N Roses changed from when you first started recording with them?
I think it was probably more complicated when I first started recording with them, with Guns N Roses. We were doing the Use Your Illusion records and there was a shit load of material. Just pre-production was like a year and then tracking everything. If it was on vinyl, I think it would have been like four or five records at once. It was just a lot of stuff. Then it was quite a long time after that before we put anything else out but that’s a whole other story altogether.
But I think with Dead Daisies, we made a deadline for ourselves, and we were in the middle of a tour so we were kind of under the gun. We couldn’t really take any liberties. It was like, “We’ve got two days to write some songs. Let’s do it.” Then we had a few days to track them, put down the basic tracks, then we came here and had three days to do the overdubs. And we did it, we finished it. But it was only three or four songs as opposed to fifty. So that’s a big difference. Even if you’re just making an album, it’s obviously going to take longer. I was definitely more involved in the writing process with the Daisies, which eventually with Guns N Roses on Chinese Democracy I was a lot more involved in the writing process as well. This was sort of a bish-bam-bang we’ve got to get in and do it and with Guns we were basically compiling a library all with one shot.
What still excites you about playing music?
I just still really enjoy it. I guess maybe sometimes just waiting for that magic moment to happen, you know. How everything just sort of comes together and it doesn’t happen every night but when it does, you can just feel it. You feel on top of the world and realize that we’re able to do a pretty special thing for a living and making people happy. That’s cool.
What was the most nerve-wracking experience you have had on stage?
(laughs) I don’t know but I can’t really tell you THE most nerve-wracking. You know, there has been a few. There is always that moment where suddenly you have that nature call. That can be very, very nerve-wracking; especially on a big stage like with Guns N Roses. You can’t really just excuse yourself. So that can get pretty nerve-wracking. I have lots of stories like that but that’s the biggest issue I have, as far as wracking of the nerves. Like, we were in India not too long ago and had some delicious Indian food, cause we were in India, and it was fantastic. But it didn’t sit well with me and I’m looking around like, “I have got to get to a bathroom and I have to get to a bathroom NOW.” In fact, we were going on stage, like, Oh my God. So all there was was like a port-o-potty in India, which is not the cleanest place in the world. The people are great, beautiful place, but not the cleanest place. So that was probably not only the most nerve-wracking, cause I could hear the intro music playing, but we were going to be on in like two minutes and I was not feeling well. But I made it on stage and it was a great show.
Who was the first real rock star that you ever met?
It’s funny, I want to say it was Joe Jackson, the singer. He was in Boulder and my girlfriend had met him and, strangely, she just disappeared with him (laughs). Then about a year later or so, I met Ronnie James Dio. They were recording up in the mountains above Boulder at this place called Caribou Ranch, where a lot of people recorded back then in the seventies and eighties. It’s a beautiful place. I was working a construction job then and so after work every day me and my friend Danny would go sit at the bar in the middle of the mall, there was a bar there, and drink Beck’s Beer. And these two girls that we knew worked at the House Of Leather and they had somehow met the guys in Dio’s band and met Ronnie. We went in to say hi and they said, “You know Dio’s coming in today, like Ronnie James Dio,” and we’re like, “No, he’s not.” “Oh yes he is.” So we’re sitting at the bar and all of a sudden we see this like commotion and I’m like, “Holy fucking shit, it’s Ronnie James Dio.” He went into the leather store and we walked over there and they introduced us and he was the nicest, most approachable, down-to-earth, pleasant human being I’d ever met. Forget that he was a rock star (laughs). He just had this presence about him and he was one of the greatest singers who has ever walked the face of the Earth. So we chatted for a while.
What did you talk about?
He just asked us what kind of music we liked and what instruments we played, that kind of thing, cause we told him we were in a band and everything. He gave us some words of encouragement.
What were his encouraging words?
To just stick with it, you know. If you stick with it, anyone has a chance, anyone can make it. So years later, a friend of mine was bartending at the side bar at the Avalon, which used to be called the Palace in Hollywood. I was sitting at the side bar and in walks Ronnie James Dio. And at this point, I had already been in Guns N Roses. We both knew the bartender and she introduced me and he said, “Of course, I know Dizzy.” And he says, “How’s Ann?” Well, Ann was the girl that worked at the House Of Leather in Boulder. He remembered who I was. That was the kind of guy he was. We sat there and talked for a couple of hours that night and it was very cool.
What is one thing fans would be surprised to know about you?
I think that I’m a keyboard player and everyone knows me as such but I’m a really big fan of guitar music and I really like the heavy stuff. I like Slayer, I like Pantera. I’m really into the heavy stuff and I like listening to that a lot. A lot of times I’ll choose to listen to that over most anything else. So that might come as a surprise to some people.
What do you have coming up for the rest of the year?
Well, I know earlier I mentioned my band Hookers & Blow and we’ve launched our website, our merchandise website. We’ve got t-shirts and hats and all that fun stuff. Just go to the Facebook page and there’s a link where you can buy our wonderful merchandise with a now famous Hookers & Blow logo (laughs).
And we are doing a residency at the Whisky A Go Go this October every Monday. It’s called Fuck Mondays and it’s Hookers & Blow with special guests. The first Monday special guest is going to be Marco Mendoza. And it’s always a good time. We’re also doing a little run up the East coast, starting October 2nd. We’re playing New York City at Bowery Electric and Dingbats in Jersey and we’re coming up to Connecticut and Massachusetts and it’s all to have fun and have a good time and to promote the Hookers & Blow merchandise.
In addition to that, I’m going to the UK in November and December with the Dead Daisies and looking forward to that again.
And I have twelve of my own songs in the can. I’m just trying to get them mixed and I’m going to put those out pretty soon. So people should be looking for that because I have a whole bunch of great musicians who came in and played on it. It’s some good songs, some songs that I’ve had lying around for a long time and I just wanted to put them out there. And starting next year, hopefully I’ll have some time cause I’d like to go out with my band too and do those songs.
Are you singing the lead vocals?
Yes, I sing with Hookers & Blow and with my band. I try (laughs)
Do you have a date when your CD will be out?
There’s no release date yet but it will be soon.
What else do you hope to accomplish in your career? You’ve already done so much.
You know what, I try not to set any lofty goals for myself. I definitely want to get my record out there, that’s a big priority for me. But I just want to keep passing on rock & roll music to future generations and just try to keep it alive. That’s what I try to do every day when I wake up and every time I take the stage. That’s important to me. Keep rock & roll music alive and keep it going, keep the kids into it and make people happy. That’s it.