Guitarist for Canadian Progressive Rock group SAGA, Ian speaks with us about his musical roots in Eastern Canada, the inner makings of the trademark Saga sound, Saga’s latest record “20-20”, performing with Yes, Asia, a concert in the Bahamas, and more.
January 4, 2013
Guitarhoo!: Hello Ian, Happy New Year and welcome to the site. To give a brief history, where are you from originally?
Ian Crichton: I was born in Oakville, Ontario, but grew up in Toronto
G!: When did you pick up a guitar for the first time and was guitar the first instrument you learned to play?
IC: I played a Sears acoustic at 7, trying to play chords and rhythm, At 12 I picked up my brothers bass guitar, because he played it, but I started electric guitar at 13. I had a semi acoustic Guild my parents bought me, because the head stock had been broken and glued back it was 80 bucks… the thing was as big as me, I could have jammed a sail in the middle and crossed the Atlantic!
G!: Did you take any formal training, or were you self taught?
IC: I’m self taught. I used to play vinyl records and slow them down with my finger to figure out what was being played, Hendrix, Beck, Page, Clapton etc. it was 1969! It was apparent to me that these guys, since their music and playing were different, listened to themselves as far as developing their style, so, I thought that was a great idea and started it myself.
G!: Do you have a history of musicians in your family?
IC: No not at all, Jim and I have some military though, my Dad was an author.
G!: Who were some of your early influences musically?
IC: My influences were guitarists of the time, 60’s-70’s, Jeff beck, John McLaughlin are exceptional guitar players, also Roy Buchanan.
G!: Do you play any other musical instruments?
IC: Bit of this and that, some keys, I play Bass, been trying to play drums, good stress relief anyway 🙂
G!: What was the first band you joined or started and what kind of music were you playing at that time?
IC: I started my professional career at 19, I was hired by a band called Kickback, we played all around Ontario and Quebec in bars-clubs. In those days you were hired to play from Monday to Sat. Even Sundays sometimes. If the bar was out of town we’d be staying in their rooms all week, no matter what state they were in. We played half covers and half original, rock band, covers were Zep, Aerosmith, we did an Alan Parsons song, Tell Tale Heart, and also a band called Trapeze.
G!: Was the band “The Pockets” an early version of Saga, and if so were there many differences in musical style or direction from Saga?
IC: When the band started in 1976 our name was Pockets, we played for about a year under that name. All original material. Some of it made the first record but some didn’t. We were looking for a record deal and it was brought to our attention that there was a 10 piece band in the states called Pockets with a record out already, so we had to change our name.
G!: What lead to Saga being signed to a major label?
IC: It took constant effort, we worked mainly on Polydor and finally got a deal, a 3 record deal! Thats what they would do in those days, deals were usually multi record, there was a development stage considered by the company in which they would think that our 3rd or 4th record would be a hit. Not these days, 1 CD and a band is gone if they don’t sell, also very small budgets these days for new bands.
G!: A big part of the Saga progressive sound is your staccato solo playing trading off with the keyboards, more than solo sections, they are more like interludes / extensions of the songs. How do you guys usually come up with these parts?
IC: That’s usually Jim Gilmour and myself that come up with those. It’s part of what Saga has always done, Key-guitar lines that are played together in harmony, or not, panned left and right! The section itself always presents itself, where there would be a guitar solo or middle section is where we put these lines,
G!: Saga has always had some very interesting album cover artwork. On your latest album 20-20, the cover has what looks like Albert Einstein looking through a phoropter. Who came up with the idea and who did the artwork?
IC: This cover shot was found on the net, it was the pic you see but we put in Alberts nose and mouth, which are very famous, everybody knows who it is. We were having covers done by a European artist, Trust, Human Condition, but he had moved on and isn’t painting anymore.
Saga’s latest release “20-20”
G!: 20-20 is a solid album with a polished sound. How did you guys approach this record and did the songwriting come together fairly quickly?
IC: The CD took quite a while, almost 2 years. We were still without Michael Sadler when it was started and it sounded different to what you hear now. When Michael came back to the band we started all over again, with the same material but needed lyrics-melody.
The official trailer video and an audio sampler playlist from Saga’s album 20-20
G!: “Spin It Again” has got some heavy riffs, a wicked solo, and Queen’esque flanged out backing vocals in the chorus, a cool track. Whats your favorite track off the album?
IC: I usually take to the more up-tempo tracks, Six Feet Under, Well Runs Dry, Spin It Again, Anywhere You Wanna Go,
G!: Its been announced recently Saga will be performing at the “Cruise to the Edge” concert series (aboard a cruise ship touring the Caribbean islands), along with Yes, Steve Hackett, Carl Palmers ELP Legacy, UK and several classic progressive rock bands. This is a very unique event. Does the band have anything special planned for this event?
IC: Yes, a holiday at the same time! It will be great seeing those musicians again, we’ve played shows with all these bands at one time or another. Geoff Downes is playing in Yes, I was in Wales 3 times recording and writing with Geoff and Asia.
G!: After releasing over 25 albums with Saga, what is your favorite song to perform live?
IC: That’s a hard one, maybe at the moment “Corkentellis” or “Book of Lies”, “It Never Ends” I have a few.
“Corkentellis” from the Saga record 10,000 days
G!: What guitars and gear do you take with you on the road?
IC: I prefer to use 2 amps, always have really. For the past 5 years I’ve been using a Herbert, 180 watt, Diesel for my main sound, German made by Peter Diezel and Peter Stapher, awesome! I use an A-B box, the other amp which is for clean only is a Roland Jazz 120 chorus. I haven’t used effects on stage in my career, only once breifly and I didn’t like it. I’ve always found that when your in a venue there is natural reverb-space and this is enough for me. I always play dry. The FOH (sound man) tech has full control to add something on me and can hear the exact effect out front. I do use a Wah at points but thats it. I’ve always used 2 guitars live, my Lado (passive) that I’ve had for 25 years and a Music Man Ernie Ball, (active) with EMG’s. Both with 2 octaves.
G!: In 2000, you had performed on five songs on Asia’s “Aura” album, (“The Last Time”, “Free”, “Under the Gun”, “Come Make My Day”, “Hands of Time”), how did your involvement in the record come about?
IC: Well, I was sitting downstairs at my fireplace when the phone rung, it was in the winter of 99. I had met the guys a few months prior when they opened for Saga in Europe. John asked me if I were into coming over and writing a prog on prog record, the first stuff we wrote was cool, then I was brought back to finish a few months later and they had new management-direction etc. The record that was done, in the end, was a lot more commercial than when it started.
G!: On the tracks “The Last Time” and “Free” you played along side legendary guitarist Steve Howe of Yes. Did you track along side with Steve in the studio, if so how was it too meet Steve? How were the sessions overall for the album?
IC: No, it was recorded at separate times and blended in the mix. While we were recording Yes came to Cardiff for a show, Steve sent tickets and passes and we went down, I met him there backstage, I’d already met Chris a few times before.
G!: Do you have a home studio, if so, do you have any favorite gear you prefer to record with?
IC: Yes I do, not so elaborate but it works fine. I prefer to record in studio’s like I have for most of my career, but its so convenient to transfer-edit etc. when its digital. Once again its dry man!! I use a Shure 57 and a Shure 58, the acoustics I go direct, I use Nuendo to record, when I solo in this situation I will monitor a small delay in the background or the same in reverb but I won’t print the effect, its just to vibe to.
G!: You’ve done quite a bit of session work outside of Saga, in this era of digital recording, with ease of use and communication. When you do sessions these days, do you often record your parts remotely in your home studio and ftp transfer over the stems to the producer/band?
IC: I will do that of course, it all depends on the project, Asia I flew over to Wales and recorded analog, they had a SSL console in-house, but for sessions its great, the quality if fine.
G!: In 2002, you appeared on the DVD “Classic Rock Legends: Night of the Guitars” along with Ronnie Montrose, Robin Trower, Jan Akkerman, and Rick Derringer. How did this project come about?
IC: It was passed to me by our European agent Carl Leighton Pope. They had asked if I was interested. I had some solo material but no solo CD out yet, but I did it. We all played 20-25 min. and at the end we all came out to jam, 6 week tour, great playing with those guitarists. In the band Kickback before Saga we played a Robin Trower tune.
G!: You’ve released 2 solo albums, “Welcome to the Boom Boom Room” in 1995 and “Ghettos By Design” in 1997. The records had more of an alternative rock / metal blend of music. Do you have any plans to record another solo album?
IC: I’m starting to think of one now, I can hear voices, yes I will, hopefully this year!
“Shades of Blue” off the album, “Welcome to the Boom Boom Room” by Ian Crichton Band.
G!: What are some of the biggest changes and differences in the Canadian music scene of today compared to when you started out in the 70s, would you say?
IC: It was more progressive in the 70’s, bands were coming out that sounded so much different than each other. Then the 80’s the grunge-boybands. 90’s, rap, hiphop. Saga has floated through all these maintaining our style, we’re one of the only bands around that have lasted this long, record company wants a new CD this year.
G!: Looking back at your career in music so far, what is one of your fondest memories?
IC: Hard to say, it was nice being in your 20’s 🙂 and living in the Bahamas, going out on tours and returning… there.
G!: What are some of your hobbies and interests outside of music?
IC: Hobbies,..mmm, lately I’ve been flying a remote helicopter, love it, would like to get my licence for a real one.
G!: Do you have any advice you’d like to pass along to aspiring musicians?
IC: It’s a different world now, much harder environment. I’d say, well I don’t know what I’d say, good luck to all whom venture!!!
Interview © 2012 Guitarhoo!