It’s the final countdown for the ex-Europe guitar man as he answers the 10 questions we ask everyone.
1. What was your first guitar and when did you get it?
“It was a Hagström, a Swedish guitar, and I got it when I was 13, as a Christmas gift. It all started when I discovered I wanted to be a guitar player. I went home and told my mum that ‘life ain’t worth living without a guitar…’ This is a form of psychology that can work on parents - you’re a kid and you get into all sorts of trouble and they don’t want you to be extra-troubled on top of that.
“So I got a cheap Hagström Impala, I think it was about 150 krona, the equivalent of about 15 quid, but this was in the '70s.”
2. Suppose the building was burning down, which guitar from your collection would you save?
“It has to be the Les Paul prototype that I have for my signature model, which is custom-made with its own patents. I’ve been using it live for about five years, it’s my favourite guitar, but the way Gibson was going - they were in a lot of trouble - is why we haven’t got around to doing a production model yet.”
3. What’s the oldest guitar you have in your collection?
“That’s a Fender Strat from 1958. It’s a lovely one - Sunburst - and I use that a lot as well. We played Milton Keynes in ’89 or ’90, it was Europe and Bon Jovi, and that was the first time I used it. It was a lovely gig, that one - beautiful weather and everything.”
4. When did you last practise and what did you play?
“I practise every day. The last thing I was doing was an instrumental for a fusion album. When I was younger I had a routine where I would go through all the different techniques like alternate picking, legato, sweeps and whatnot, but in the end I found it too boring. I still think it’s fun to practise, but I try to play a lot of different songs.”
5. When was the last time you changed your own strings?
“That’s a tough one! I’m not even sure I can do it any more. I have my guitar tech or leave it to my luthier guy - he makes [the guitars] as good as new and I just go and pick them up, that’s how it normally works.”
6. What are you doing five minutes before you go on stage and fi ve minutes afterwards?
“Five minutes before, I need to just be alone - do some vocal training, work with the guitar and just generally be by myself. I have a warm-up, which is a C major scale, as simple as it might sound, just up and down in octaves. Then I go up half a note, then I go down - not very fast, I start really slowly just to make the fingers come awake. Then it’s full speed. It’s almost like a superstitious thing, you know? Five minutes after, I’m sitting there with a cold beer.”
7. What’s the worst thing that’s happened to you on stage?
“I played a festival and someone threw a hand grenade on stage! It landed right in front of me. It turned out to be a smoke grenade, but it looked exactly like the clichéd idea of what you think a hand grenade looks like.
“I just froze. My life was passing before me until someone grabbed it and threw it away. He got a celebration that evening where we took care of him properly, because that was so brave. People read about it in the paper and said, ‘Come on, Kee, it was just a smoke grenade…’ but how was I supposed to know? There’s no way you could tell by looking at it. That was really scary.”
8. What song would you play on an acoustic around a campfire?
“I’m so tempted to say House Of The Rising Sun [laughs]. Hmmm, probably Every Breath You Take. I like that on acoustic, and I’ve an arrangement that is pretty interesting - just acoustic guitar and vocals.”
9. What advice would you give your younger self?
“I would tell myself, ‘Don’t worry so much about making mistakes because nobody really knows how you’re supposed to play something except yourself.’ The people listening to me when I’m improvising, they have no idea how I planned to do it at the beginning, they just hear what I’ve done. So I would tell myself not to be so damn afraid of making mistakes - just relax, it’ll be fine.”
10. Is there a myth about you that you’d like to set the record straight on?
“The only thing that comes to mind right now is when I started in Europe, the entire media sort of took for granted that I was a young kid that had a big break, which was far from the truth. Some of my best work I had already started on, y’know? I’d had gold and platinum albums before I was even in Europe. I was already established, and I was treated like this young guy who came from nowhere, which felt so unfair after all I’d done.”
Kee Marcello’s latest album is Scaling Up via the Frontiers label.