Driven Snowy

28 Nov

Cornish blues guitarist Snowy White has been there, all along!

You may think you’ve never heard of him before, but chances are you’ve heard Snowy White play guitar. That is if you ever liked Thin Lizzy in the early ‘80s, saw a Pink Floyd or Roger Waters concert live or online. Or once owned Pink Floyd’s Animals album… on 8-Track.

snowy white

That’s the kind of anonymity Snowy White has been enjoying for close to 50 years now. And it seems, the most successful blues guitarists to come out of the Celtic nation of Cornwall, likes it that way.

Only one problem. Snowy will be seen, a lot, playing alongside Roger Waters in the soon to be released Roger Waters: The Wall documentary. The film takes an up-close look at the 2010 – 2012 The Wall world tour. When the documentary opens in theatres, Snowy won’t be able to hide, anymore.

“It is my nature,” confesses Snowy. “I’m actually quite a private person. If the spotlight hits me, my natural inclination is to step out of it.”

 

Shy, silent side aside, the affably-professed ‘recluse’, Snowy – born in Barnstaple, Devon, home of the Dumnonii Celts, and raised on the Isle of Wight, pre-Roman homeland of the Durotriges – is driven to play the blues, and has been right from the start.

“My father was a drummer,” Snowy explains, “doing quite well before the war broke out. Afterwards he got a job, but still played early in the evenings and for dances, and holiday camps. His guitar player was really good. And when I was about ten, I just got into guitar playing. A bit recluse even then, I didn’t do much except sit at home and learn to play. Eventually, maybe sixteen, I plucked up the courage to go play at my local youth club.”

Recluse or not, there was very little for a teenager to do on the Isle of Wight. So Snowy had to travel by steam train to London to find records from BB King and Otis Rush, Robert Johnson, Elvis and Big Bill Broonzy. “Which I guess made it more of an adventure, something a bit more special,” he says. “And after a little while I got into thinking that maybe the guitar was my way. Maybe I could actually earn a living playing the guitar.”

 

And what a living he made! Snowy’s 50 year guitar playing career has seen him record with the legendary British blues guitarist and old friend Peter Green, Al Stewart and Mick Taylor. He was once a touring musician with Pink Floyd, and a full-fledged member of Ireland’s Thin Lizzy, at the same time. To follow that up, he had a #3 hit on UK charts in 1983 with the ballad “Bird of Paradise”.

Not to be labelled a balladeer, Snowy turned his back on his sudden pop star status and went on to record 15 albums between 1983 and 2013 with Snowy White’s Blues Agency, Snowy White & The White Flames, and the Snowy White Blues Project. All the while never forgetting where he was from.

 

“After I moved out, I realised that our accents were quite different. It evoked a feeling of being quite separate, ‘out that way’. A few years ago now I drove back to Devon, and past the house where I’d been born. It seemed quite a long way out still. Even now.”

His Cornish folk and Celtic musical roots always with him – clearer, melodic and more akin to Welsh and Breton styles than the northern Irish, Scottish and Manx R&B – Snowy is easily recognizable on recordings because he so – some say stubbornly – sticks to his blues principles. Live in concert, he’s also easily recognized by his career-long, one and only guitar, his 1957 Les Paul Goldtop. Which, after almost half a century together, he is putting up for sale.

 

“It’s a bit of an unknown quantity this guitar,” Snowy guesses. “Because the aficionados who collect them, they want a guitar that’s as much in original condition and is as tidy as possible. But mine is a ‘working guitar’ and is sort of the opposite. But, it’s got a lot of history. A lot of history.”

Snowy’s guitar doesn’t have the pedigree of his friend Peter Green’s 1959 Les Paul, which sold for over $2 million in 2006. But with its storied history, it is expected to fetch in the neighbourhood of $200,000 on auction this spring.

goldtop
“Sometimes when I think about not having it… it’s quite horrendous,” he reveals. “And then other times I’m a bit, well it’s time. It does feel like it’s time to move on from it.”

Story by Donald Wiedman – for Celtic Life International, December 2014

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