Welcome to our new HARMAN Ambassador Spotlight blog series. In the coming months, we’ll highlight some of the exceptional artists who share the HARMAN Professional Solutions commitment to great sound and music. We’re honored to have them as part of our family!
While some of our ambassadors are newcomers to the music scene, others—like Doug Pinnick (also known as dUg)—have earned an indelible place in rock ‘n’ roll history. With his celebrated rock trio, King’s X, and the many other groups he has performed and recorded with, Doug’s signature bass sound, soulful, bluesy rock vocals and dreamy harmonies are lauded by audiences around the globe.
I recently caught up with Doug between his laying down tracks for a new solo album and packing his gear for a King’s X European tour. Just a few months earlier, one of his all-star side-projects, KXM, released a second album, “Scatterbrain.” Doug, I learned, never stops making music.
[MM] Do you ever take a break from music?
[Doug] Making music is what I do and what I love. I always have all kinds of projects going. My mom says that I sang before I could talk. Why could I sing before I could talk? There was something in my head that made me hone in on my voice and allowed me to easily emulate what I heard, without any thought. I was just driven to sing and play and somehow ended up at this point in my life. Sometimes, I look back and think, “Wow, look what happened!”
[MM] The earliest roots of King’s X can be traced to the late 70s when you and drummer Jerry Gaskill joined forces with guitarist Ty Tabor. Was there ever a time when you weren’t together?
[Doug] We each work on a variety of projects and have moved around the country, but since we got together in 1980, we have never broken up. We’ve played and made records the whole time. It’s been almost 10 years since the last King’s X album release, but we’re getting ready to start a new one, our twelfth. I’m writing material for it.
[MM] Can you tell me about some of the other groups you have played in?
[Doug] There have been a lot. There was Supershine with Bruce Franklin and Greg Olsen from Trouble. I’ve done two KXM albums with former Dokken guitarist, George Lynch and drummer Ray Luzier from Korn. Another project was Tres Mts. (Tres Mountains) with Jeff Ament and Mike McCready from Pearl Jam. Then I did a one-off called The Mob with Kip Winger and Reb Beach from Winger and Whitesnake, and Kelly Keagy, the drummer from Night Ranger.
I also have Pinnick Gales Pridgen. PGP, as I call it, is with blues guitarist and vocalist Eric Gales and Thomas Pridgen, who was the drummer in The Mars Volta and Suicidal Tendencies. Then there’s Grinder Blues with Jabo and Scot “Little” Bihlman that has a kind of ZZ Top meets traditional blues sound. We’re mixing our second album right now. It’s hard to think of all of them!
Oh, and I recently finished a Jimi Hendrix tribute record. I pulled some incredible musicians together, and we tried to reconstruct Hendrix tunes and make them sound almost exactly like the record. I don’t have a release date for that one yet.
[MM] Do you tour with all these bands?
[Doug] No, everyone else also plays in other bands; we do these as side projects. They’re great to do and help pay the bills!
[MM] Do you have a preference between recording and touring?
[Doug] I used to like touring more than recording, but these days, I really love recording. I’m not 20 anymore, staying up all night and constantly running around the country, but I still do love playing in front of people in any capacity.
Last night, I performed with Chad Smith, the drummer for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, at The Baked Potato, a classic L.A. club. I sang “Whipping Post” as a tribute to Gregg Allman. Meanwhile, King’s X is leaving for Europe in a few days, where we’ll play at a festival in Sweden and a lot of other large shows. I’m bringing my new AKG C636 microphone, which I love. It really handles whatever I give it!
[MM] Tell me about your home studio.
[Doug] It’s not a full-blown studio, but I can definitely make records in it. These days, you can produce music in your bedroom and nobody knows the difference! About five years ago, I made my last solo record, “Naked,” in there. I’m now working on songs for a new one.
I recently set up a pair of JBL LSR305 studio monitors in my studio and couldn’t believe how clear they were. What I really love is that there isn’t a sweet spot anymore. I can move from left to right, stand up or sit down, and the sound stays consistent and the separation is the same. It’s just amazing. I’ve never heard monitors like them in my life.
[MM] In addition to the ability to record in home studios, what are some of the ways you’ve seen the music business change in recent years?
[Doug] Music is in both a good and bad situation. Number one is that we all have the ability to make music on our own, in our own homes, on our own terms, instead of going into a studio and spending thousands of dollars. But, the problem is there is no MTV or radio anymore to take our music to the public. Everybody is at home making all these records and nobody gets to hear them. That’s what is really going on right now.
Also, people don’t want to buy music anymore. Once they can get it all for free, why would anyone buy it? Social media came along—what a wonderful thing—but it gave everybody access to everything all of the time, so nothing is surprising anymore. Nothing is shocking or new. It feels like people don’t care quite as much as they used to.
I want to know where all the passion and inspiration is. When I was young, we listened to the Beatles on speakers that were no bigger than three inches, but we could hear the bass and the guitar, and it moved us. You got the song. Now, so much of the music is compressed and brick-walled, without any peaks or valleys in the sound, so it can play on an iPhone. Everything’s so squashed, it’s often hard to tell what’s going on.
The other thing that’s changed, and maybe the biggest thing, is that we don’t really have rock stars anymore. We have pop stars, of course, but where are the Robert Plants and the Soundgardens? When you think of all the bands in the 90s that became heroes, there are no new bands that get close to that caliber, even if they’re as good—or even better—than the old bands. There aren’t the venues anymore, where people can go to discover something new. We had MTV videos, radio, local club scenes and things like that. You could be part of a big gang, and everyone believed in and listened to one great song. That’s over. The era of rock heroes is gone.
[MM] You’re well known for your distinct bass sound and the dUg Ultra Bass 1000 amp. How would you describe your sound and how it evolved?
[Doug] There are two bass players I have always loved to listen to, John Entwistle of The Who and Chris Squire from Yes. Both of those guys had unique bass tones that I kind of emulated. They each fused together a guitar amp and a bass amp, which results in a really distorted high-end and a big, fat low-end that adds to the bass sound.
I remember seeing Yes play at a big festival in Chicago in 1976, and there was Chris Squire with both a Marshall guitar amp and a bass amp, and I’ve been doing pretty much the same ever since. It’s a really cool sound I’ve been using since I was about 30, 36 years ago.
One day, Tech 21 called and asked if I wanted to develop the dUg Ultra Bass 1000 amp head. We sat down, and I gave them all my secrets. We discussed the sound and how we wanted the amp to look. We worked on it for about two years, and when it was finished, it was exactly what I always wanted!
[MM] What about your playing style?
[Doug] I use a pick and don’t know how else describe it. I believe a bass player is supposed to be very simple and solid and the foundation of the band that everybody else stands up on. I try to be simple. I try to be groovy. I try not to be in your face, but still be the most important thing in the band!
No matter what I do, I try to push the envelope a little bit and make my music sound as real and as passionate as possible.
[MM] Do you have anything else you would like to share about your life in music?
[Doug] Everyone who makes music has expectations when they enter this world, especially after they see bands play and say, “Oh, I want to do that,” and go for it. Some of us are lucky enough to make a living at it, and some people aren’t. It doesn’t have anything to do with how good or bad you are. It has everything to do with just stepping out and going for it, taking a chance. A lot of people take that chance and lose. I was lucky. I kept taking chances and haven’t had a regular job since I was 25! I got a chance to make music and get paid for it. Good thing, because I don’t know what else I would do!
Many thanks to Doug Pinnick for sharing his great insights into his music and being part of the HARMAN Ambassador family. Are you a professional or part-time musician with a signature sound? Share your tips and tricks in the comments.