Interview by Robert Cavuoto
You can’t think of 80s music without thinking of the multi-platinum superstars Duran Duran. With 120 million albums sold worldwide, acclaimed songwriter and guitarist Andy Taylor was behind the band’s biggest hits and success from 1980 to 1986; then again, when the original line-up reunited from 2001 to 2006. His unique style of playing and songwriting helped propel the band to superstardom and launch a style of music called New Wave. Their first three groundbreaking albums revolutionized the music industry and set an unobtainable bar for generations to come. Their influences can still be heard today in rock, pop, electronic, and other genres.
While on hiatus from Duran Duran in 1985, Andy formed Power Station and exceeded expectations by delivering two highly successful albums with vocalist Robert Palmer. From there, he went on to a successful solo career as singer and guitarist, releasing his critically acclimated and influential solo album, Thunder, in 1987.
To fans surprise and delight, Andy reunited with Duran Duran for a 25th Anniversary World Tour in 2003 and their 2004 release, Astronaut, before parting ways a second time in 2006.
Andy has forged a solid reputation as a songwriter, guitarist, and producer who blends well-crafted songs with guitar and vocal melodies. He has taken his talents to new heights continuing to make solo albums, touring, and producing bands.
Andy was scheduled to release his new solo album, in 2020 but with the pandemic, his plans changed. The album is now expected to release the Summer of 2021 via BMG Records Worldwide and will be called Mans a Wolf to Man. Prior to the lockdown, he released a fantastic hard-edged rock single “Love or Liberation,” which was co-written by Ricky Warwick of Black Star Riders.
I had the honor of speaking with legendary guitarist Andy Taylor about his upcoming solo album, how Eddie Van Halen’s guitar playing influenced him, how Duran Duran influenced rock bands in the 80s, and why he feels the band is not in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Robert Cavuoto: As the world mourns the death of Eddie Van Halen, the greatest guitar innovator of our time, I wonder what your thoughts are on him as you were both in two of the biggest bands in the world at similar times?
Andy Taylor: I knew Eddie had been ill for a while, and then all of a sudden, he was gone! I first saw Van Halen in 1978 at Newcastle City Hall when they opened for Black Sabbath. I can still remember it was a Sunday afternoon, we had band practice, and everyone was wound up about seeing Van Halen. They came on stage and did something that you didn’t see too often with guitar playing. I can still see him playing “Eruption” and thinking, “Did he just fucking do that?” [Laughing]. Nobody had ever seen that type of pyrotechnic guitar playing before. I know he wasn’t the first to do hammer-ons, but he perfected them. He had amazing lead skills and scale work. His father was classically trained, so I can see the relationship. His chord work, rhythm playing, and writing were second to none. Then throw in the pyrotechnic playing, hammer-ons, and his use of the whammy bar; he was brilliant. Some guys play lead, some who just play rhythm; I have always tried to master both because I think it’s important [laughing]. He took playing to another level; he wasn’t just a “noodle;” he lived it. Eddie even had his own guitar workshop in his home. How many dudes have their own guitar workshop in their home? [Laughing] In the late 60s, you had the innovation of the electric guitar with players like Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, and I’ll include George Harrison, but we grew up in the 70s, which I think gave us the best Rock & Roll education. When I saw Van Halen in 1978, I got backstage, and they were throwing the booze around, there were swells of white smoke puffing in the air, and David Lee Roth was being as you would expect him to be. Three years later, Duran Duran is in a TV studio in Brussels doing a show with Van Halen. Even though we were lip-syncing, Eddie still had his Frankenstrat with him. Straight off, he showed it to me, and I had a good look at it. In fact, there is a photo of me holding his guitar out there somewhere. That was a kid in a candy store moment. Three years earlier, I’m being blown away in the audience, and three years later, we are on the same TV show!
Writing “Jump,” took them into took them into legitimate parts of the 80s when many bands from the 70s didn’t survive. They straddled those two decades. Imagine what rock music would have been like without Eddie’s guitar playing? Where would it have gone? They had a lot in common with us in that they used video really well. One thing about Eddie’s lead and rhythm playing that I noticed when I was a kid is playing his rhythm parts are as fucking hard as playing some of his lead parts! When you think about the song, “I’m the One” off their first album, the rhythm part is like a crazy lead. He had great “riffology!” He also played one of the greatest solos ever on Michael Jackson’s “Beat it,” which was a big pop song. He could cross over away from rock to pop and had a guitar sound that got on the radio. Eddie was an all-round guitar player!
Robert Cavuoto: Duran Duran’s sound really led a musical revolution in the early 80s only equal to The Beatles. Around that same time, you started to see bands like Van Halen and even Judas Priest to some degree, used keyboards and synthesizers in their music. I wondered what you thought during that changing musical landscape of hard rock bands taking a page out of Duran Duran’s book?
Andy Taylor: [Laughing] I guess it was the other way in our band! I was always trying to keep the guitar in there! It wasn’t just the music that was changing; fashion changed established rock bands as well. Now rock bands were wearing make-up and doing their hair. [Laughing] Everyone went away from that 70s look. Whitesnake made pop videos with David Coverdale wearing rouge! That’s our fucking trick! [Laughing] There was a great story about Led Zeppelin and Peter Grant when Duran started making it big, Peter said to them, “That’s it, you guys are too old!” We came off the back of Punk; maybe that taught us how radical we could be. Maybe it opened the door to how far we could go. We explored things that people are still trying to get their heads around. We were pretty comfortable with our sexuality, not that we explored it in a vastly weird way. If I were in that band now, I would look at the whole gender spectrum and think I’m definitely not a bloke; I’m not a jock. I’m a little guy and I like to look pretty, but I like to shag birds [laughing]. We took a lot of shit for it at first. In America, Capitol Records was more about Bob Seger and weren’t our kind of label at first. In the UK, fashion, music, and nightclub were this whole dandy thing. There a lot of things that seemed to land in one spot for me from when I went to Birmingham; I found the band and started pulling things together as what you recognize to be Duran Duran. There were so many elements that were drawn from the club’s culture at the Rum Runner, which essentially was a gay club. You have to remember in the UK during the late 70s; people were getting drunk, watching football, fighting with their mates, and battering their girlfriend. Many straight guys went there but didn’t go the other way. They were at the Rum Runner to get away from that scene. Also, girls went there as well because it was safe. They had one doorman, and I never saw a fight. It was a very “loved-up” place with no drugs involved until the end of 1980. It was just champagne, and you could get a little marijuana if you really wanted it, but there was no cocaine. I came from Northern England, which was a rock industrial place, and I never felt I fit in there. When I got down to Birmingham, I was like, “Wow, I found my weirdos!” We were straight-up, but we opened that possibility that you could be what you wanted to be. There were a lot of things guys in 70s rock bands would have never thought about doing had we not styled ourselves musically, personally, and fashion-wise. Think about Miami Vice; they nicked our color pallet – they stole it! They had the pastel suits with the sleeves rolled up; Don Johnson did that. In the 70s, you would have had a mustache and a pair of cowboy boots. We used to laugh about some of it, “You couldn’t get more filler on that face?” [laughing] Those were the days before Botox!
Robert Cavuoto: Did Eddie’s playing impact what you did musically in Power Station or on your solo album, Thunder, particularly with using the tremolo?
Andy Taylor: Yeah! Eddie’s lead playing and using the whammy bar fascinated me when I was younger. It was very spontaneous, and you could twist what you were doing; never knowing where you would end up sometimes. I used a Floyd Rose and humbucker pickups like him. I had a very similar approach to sound when I was young – plug into a Marshall and fucking play, always perfecting the amp and guitar sounds. Duran was a New Wave band, but I know for sure that when EMI signed the band because we could get into America. That was the goal for all bands in the early 80s. You didn’t have a career unless you break America. Dave Ambrose, who signed us, told us one of the reasons he thought we could go all the way was because we had a fucking great guitar player! He told me this when I was older, and he went on to say, “Look how it worked out!” America was guitar country and still is.
Robert Cavuoto: You’re a fantastic guitarist. Do you think you ever got the credit you deserved as a guitarist because Duran’s music blurred the lines between guitar and synthesizers?
Andy Taylor: Our music did that to a certain extend. We had many guitar-driven songs like “Hungry Like the Wolf,” but for the most part, they were like “Rio,” which is where we ended up a lot. You have to remember we were learning and fighting over it all the time. We had an unwritten understanding and dedication between the five of us where we wanted to go. Individually we could all get pretty selfish, but that sort of thing pushes people to the limits of their abilities. When you’re in a band, you challenge one another. To make the guitar work in the early 80s, you had to be quite versatile, and its true people wanted to bury it. Everyone got very over synthesized. One of the aspects that really worked with Duran was that we were making great pop records, that was cool with me. There’s a lot of compromises that you need to make provided you are making great records and getting satisfaction from the writing. I was always hands-on with the production; you couldn’t move Nick Rhodes or me out of the studio. You have to know I wasn’t just thinking of playing guitar in Duran; it was a pop band. I had an AC/DC and Van Halen sound but being in a pop group was really the only way to get a start in life. Jimmy Page was in the Yardbirds, or Hendrix played for Little Richard. You had to start somewhere. It was really difficult to do rock after Punk in the UK. It was impossible.
Robert Cavuoto: It’s incredible that you recognized that early in your career and put aside your guitar desires for the bigger picture and the band’s greater good.
Andy Taylor: When I got down to Birmingham and met the guys, I just knew how to put it together musically with them. It didn’t take me long; after six or seven weeks, we had the first album. They had ideas, but prior to that, I was playing guitar with bands at working man’s clubs. I did it for a living in Northern England and at US military bases where I worked six hours a night. I learned every song that was on the charts in America and the UK. I learned and acquired all of those skills needed to familiarize myself with songwriting. Right from the start, I was very good at arraigning. It was never about me doing a Power Station solo; Duran was a pop concept. When I met them, I just turned 19 years old, and Nick was just about to turn 18. It was strange kindred. I knew we could do it. They had ideas that weren’t in my way of thinking, but I could do things for the music and make it work — simple stuff like using major or minor scales on bass parts. The bass line on “Rio” didn’t just come [laughing]!
Robert Cavuoto: Understanding your way of thinking, would you prefer to be remembered as a songwriter or a guitarist?
Andy Taylor: People always want to work with me on the basis of playing guitar and writing songs. I recently wrote songs for a Polish band, Chemia, where I didn’t play any guitar but wrote the top lines. Inevitably if you play guitar in a band like Duran Duran and Power Station, people will remember you as a guitar player. Nowadays, the emphasis is put on songwriting; because nobody can fucking write a song anymore! EMI signed Duran, and we were the most successful pop band next to “you-know-who.” Nobody ever remarked on our songwriting because the band’s style sense overrode it. If you applied that emphasis to us as songwriters, then we were really something else! We never missed a beat. I never dropped the ball writing songs from Duran to Power Station to Rod Stewart. I was also a producer and guitarist at the same time. You have to question if you need PR for your job in the band? The PR is for the artist, but if you PR the achievement? I see people hanging on to it, but when I looked at the record sales at 100 million-plus, what more do you need to do? People already get it.
Robert Cavuoto: Late 2019, you released a hard-edged rock song, “Love or Liberation” which was co-written by Ricky Warwick. What is the status of the upcoming album?
Andy Taylor: The album is all done. It was mixed, and delivered to BMG. It would have it been out if it wasn’t for the pandemic that shut everything down. The label loved it. We live in a world where a label won’t release shit if they don’t think they can at least break even in this world. I co-wrote “Love or Liberation” with Ricky Warwick, and Gary Stringer from REEF sings on it. He’s truly one of the best singers I have ever worked with. When I brought Gary on board, I was able to do more with the material. I sing on the album as well. I hadn’t intended to do an album; it was one of those moments where I got a call from BMG asking if I wanted to make a Power Station or solo album? I was like, are you serious? I did it on one condition that they leave me the fuck alone and let me do it. I come from a place where that works for me, and I don’t need any outside help! It came out great. Gary came in from REEF on vocals, Arya Goggin came in from Skindred on drums, and Paul Turner of Jamiroquai is playing most of the bass. I did a bit of everything, and when we were done, Gary asked if I wanted to hang out with their band, write, and play on their new album. So I started working on their album, and it will be finished as soon as we are allowed to get back to it. It’s a great Rock & Roll album. Last year Gary asked if I wanted to play Glastonbury; I was like, “Yeah, I’m glad I turned up today.” [Laughing] It was like that childhood dream– join a band and play Glastonbury. It felt right in my gut! To play with REEF is a perfect gig for me. It’s wonderful how it all came about; at 59 years old, I got the solo album “jubies,” and I’m playing in a band again! Does it sound familiar [laughing]? It’s REEF’s 25th anniversary as a band, and Duran’s 40th anniversary as a band, so I’m “Mr. Anniversary!”
Robert Cavuoto: When writing songs for your 1987 solo album, Thunder, were any songs or germs of ideas presented to Duran Duran for inclusion on a possible album?
Andy Taylor: I don’t think they were; everything was written after I left with Steve Jones. That was another dream moment as the band was big fans of The Sex Pistols. I left the band and went to work with Steve [laughing]. He’s original, to say the least.
Robert Cavuoto: Was there any hesitance or apprehension of being the lead singer and fronting your own band in 1987 after leaving the biggest band in the world?
Andy Taylor: Before I joined Duran, I sang lead in my bands. I learned to play and sing back then. It’s one of those things of trying to rub your hair with one hand and your stomach with the other hand. It’s one of those synchronicity things that you need to get the flow. You see people having panic attacks before they go on stage because they don’t possess the basic skills to not get nervous. When I started to do solo work, it was something I already done.
Robert Cavuoto: You touched on this earlier; Duran Duran has a 40th anniversary coming up. Are you still in touch with any of the members, and is there talk of another reunion?
Andy Taylor: No. I don’t think anyone will be doing anything! There won’t be any touring next year. Outside of any socially distanced weird events. You can’t play to a packed house and how do you travel? There are people selling tickets, and I’m like, “What do you know that I don’t?” I think we have to be realistic next year. It’s these significant events that you lose out on. The media is obsessed with it, and it’s getting to be a little bit silly at this point.
Robert Cavuoto: If anyone deserved to be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame it’s Duran Duran not only for all your accomplishments but for your record sales. Why do think the band is not in it?
Andy Taylor: I don’t know. I was never concerned about those sorts of things. It’s the Duran karma of life. I think Duran are a difficult one; they were never comfortable being bedfellows with the institutions of the music business. We also didn’t get on too well with the press. If you look at the band’s achievement and the fact it’s still going, it should be a no-brainer. But again, you know as well as I do, it’s a rigged business. Eventually, the good shit will always get through; a lot of it doesn’t. With the BRIT Awards or the GRAMMY’s, if people want to have an honest conversation about it, I doubt the public would be ready for it. On the merits of the band, we should be there.