Friday, May 11, 2012

Interview with former Iron Maiden and Praying Mantis guitarist Dennis Stratton

Critical Mass: Thanks for taking the time to talk with Critical Mass, Dennis. I really appreciate it. You've been recording music and touring the world for over 30 years now. What are you currently up to? Any new music or tours coming up in 2012?

Dennis Stratton: Basically Chris, since playing full time in England we built up regular work throughout the year, from Christmas to Christmas. So over the last couple of years, in England, I have 3 bands that I work with and a duo. So basically we work all the time, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Sometimes on bank holidays. So, it's regular playing, regular work all the time. In between these, regular work in England, I travel a lot to Italy to do the Iron Maiden Conventions over there. It's quite big shows and festivals. And these can sometimes take me to Germany, South Africa, Bulgaria. So, it's a mixture of regular work in pubs and clubs with the band or duo and the odd trip over to Germany or wherever the festivals are. So that's what keeps me busy. Since (playing in Praying) Mantis (this) is the first time I have not been involved in a full time band, so it gives me freedom to work with different people. So, in 2012 there will be some festivals. We just came back from Germany and there will be some festivals in Italy depending on what comes up in the future.

CM: I'm sure people remember you as one half of the Iron Maiden guitar duo that was featured on the self titled debut from the band. How did you get hooked up with the band originally?

DS: One of the bands I work with in England, Remus Down Boulevard, in the 70's we signed to Quarry Management with Status Quo. And we went on tour with Status Quo back in the 70's. And we were resident at a pub in East London, The Bridge House in Canning Town. And Steve Harris and Dave Murray used to come up and watch us play. So when Iron Maiden signed a deal with EMI, back in '79, there was only 3 of them, Paul (DiAnno) Dave and Steve. They were looking for another guitarist who could sing and a drummer. So, basically they asked me to join the band because I had a lot more experience than them because I was a bit older with recording and touring. So, basically I joined the band as a fourth member. And then I took Clive (Burr) along and they asked Clive to join and that was the band all set and ready to go. And that's how we got hooked up, because they used to come watch us play before I played with Iron Maiden. 

CM: I always felt that Maiden's debut album was one of the best debuts in music history. And that Paul DiAnno, Clive Burr and yourself never really got the credit you guys so rightfully deserved. When you look back at the time you spent in Maiden, what are some of your favorite memories of that period in your life?

DS: Yeah, the debut album could have been better. Better produced. Better played. Because it was quite rushed. As I said I joined the band and they were waiting to record the album for EMI. And I got Clive in and we rehearsed and basically the album was recorded. It was very very rushed because we were booked to go on tour with Judas Priest. So I suppose, you say we never got the credit the guys rightfully deserved, well I think you're right in some ways. But then in them days we were very young and I think that if the five of us had stayed together a little bit longer we might have been a little bit different. Y'know the line-up changes started and people were arguing, so yeah. When I look back on it some of them are great memories. But I also had lots of memories before Maiden with RDB and Status Quo. So, the short time, the two years with Maiden from '79 to '80, there's lots of good memories. The Kiss tour and everything else. And they still are good memories.

                                           Iron Maiden circa 1980. L-R Dave Murray, Steve Harris, Paul DiAnno (sitting), 
                                                         Dennis Stratton and Clive Burr
 
CM: You also played in the band Praying Mantis with both Paul and Clive, at different times. Why did you leave Praying Mantis? And are you and the Troy brothers still close?

DS: I played with Praying Mantis. The problem we had there was, again Praying Mantis consisted of meself, Tino and Chris Troy. But I went into that band in 1990 to go to Japan to celebrate 10 years of The New Wave Of British Heavy Metal. And DiAnno came with us which was a bit of a mistake, but there you go. And as Praying Mantis went along, year after year, the record company wanted us to stay with them and record more albums. So, basically Bruce was on drums,
Bruce Bisland, and we used to get a singer in. We had all different vocalists. But meself, Chris and Tino were the nucleolus of the band who wrote all the material. And we rehearsed and recorded the album. Bruce would then put the drums down and then we would get a singer in to do the album and the tour in Japan. DiAnno only came with us once, and it was a big mistake. Clive came in as a debt for Bruce because we were due to go over to Japan to do the tour as usual. But they wanted us to record a double CD/DVD live in Tokyo and Bruce fell off his bike and broke his arm. So, basically, we grabbed Clive and said "Look Clive, we've got this recording to do." So Clive came in and he sort of learned the songs. He came to Japan with us and did the recording. And, yeah, it was fine. It's just a shame that when we came back that Clive then found out that he was ill and slowly got worse.

I still keep in contact with Tino and Chris. I was with Tino and Chris last week at the Keep It True festival in Frankfort. Amazing festival, 5,000 (fans). Myself, Tino and Chris flew over and we were together for the whole weekend. So, yeah, we still see one another. And we still do gigs in England with me doing this...I sometimes do this Maiden set, which is the first album with "Wrathchild" included. And we go out and we do the whole 50 minute, 1 hour set. So, I still see the Troy brothers because sometimes we do some festivals in England which I can then play the Iron Maiden songs and they can still play the Praying Mantis songs.

CM: After so many years of playing with a couple legendary bands I gotta ask you who some of your musical influences are? And how long have you been playing guitar?

DS: I started playing guitar when I was 16. I started pretty late. In them days is was pretty hard because there was no internet. There was no websites to learn guitar on. You had to sit in your bedroom with a Led Zeppelin album playing"Whole Lotta Love" just trying to find the notes. I've got many influences. A lot of my influences come from America with Steve Lukather from Toto. And the reason he stands out for me is because the different styles he plays. Y'know your Yngwie Malmsteen's, you know, they're brilliant, brilliant guitarists. Fantastic. But they've got one style. Whereas if you listen to guitarist Geoff Whitehorn here in England and Guthrie Govan they can play all different styles. But for me Steve Lukather, Neal Schon, they're the sort of guitarist, the melodic guitarist that can play different styles. And that's a lot of my influences.

                                   Praying Mantis L-R Bruce Bisland, Tino Troy, Dennis Stratton and Chris Troy
 
CM: You been endorsed by Caparison Guitars for many years now. How did your endorsement come about?

DS: Yeah, I am endorsed by Caparison Guitars. But, that was again in Japan. In 1990 we (Praying Mantis) went over there, as I said. We spent 15 years backwards and forwards in Japan until 2005, which is when when I left the band. It came about because we were asked by Charvel Jackson to use their guitars when we went to Japan. So they gave us a Charvel Jackson guitar each. And we played em. And a guy who worked for Charvel Jackson, his name
Itaru Kanno. And when Charvel split from Jackson, so they went separate ways, Itaru Kanno asked us if we would be interested in staying with him because he was starting this new company called Caparison. And basically we stayed with Itaru and we've been with him ever since. I still play the Caparison guitars. As I said, I went to America in 2004 with the Metal Fest guys. And when I came back I was told by Tino and Chris that the record company in Tokyo, Pony Canyon, had sort of basically closed. So we didn't have a record company. And, y'know, we're sitting around doing nothing. I still have my regular work I still do from Christmas to Christmas in England as I already said. And things start to dry up, so you can't sit around. So, what I did was, I said to Chris and Tino "Look, if we're not doing anything I'm gonna get out there and play with a few different people." So, that's what I've been doing. And that's where all these gigs from Italy have come from and Germany. Y'know I do the Maiden set at different festivals. I go out as a special guest at a lot of these festivals. And it's great. And as I said we're still mates, so there's not a problem. So, yeah that's how we come to get Caparison because Itaru Kanno set the company up.

CM: What equipment do you use now when you play live? Can you give us some info on your current rig?

DS: Well, I still got the old Marshall Valvestates. I've got two of those. The old Stereo Chorus Valvestates. And they're just old amps, but they do the job. So, I've got the old ME5, which is about 40 years old now. But it's the sound that I use and it still gets by. In the pub I may use a little reverb unit just to give me a little more space with the solos. But, yeah, it's mainly the Marshall Valvestate and the ME5.

CM: Is there a website you wanna plug where fans can get up to date news on what you're up to, get show dates and buy some merch?

DS: Well, I have a website as you can see if you put me name in Google. But, to be honest with you I don't really concentrate much on the website because Facebook, for me, Facebook can be a very good friend if you use it the right way. Basically, I have a lot of friends and a lot of contacts through Facebook. So, when people take pictures from like when we came back from Germany over the weekend, there's about 40 photographs on there from fans, which is quite easy because they can put the pictures on themselves. I sometimes leave messages on Facebook. I don't answer messages on Facebook because there's too many and I'm too busy to sit at a computer all day. My fingers don't work that fast. So, I can't sit at a computer all day answering hundreds of questions. So, I have actually said on Facebook "please don't leave messages" but they still do. But as I say, it is an asset because people know where I'm playing, they can post pictures on there, and the fans keep in contact. So, it's an easier way of working. So, Facebook is the one to go with me.

                                                          Dennis with old bandmate Steve Harris
 
CM: I can't thank you enough for talking with Critical Mass, Dennis. I wanna thank you for all the years of music. It truly changed my life in more ways than one. I also wanna wish you all the best in the future. Thanks again man.

DS: Well, that's very nice of you to say. Perhaps I should say a big hello to Critical Mass! And anytime you want us to come over there, I would love to come over and play. So, good luck to everyone and love to the future. And Chris, thank you very much for this chance to tell my story. Speak soon. Bye bye.


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