King of the Keys: Derek Sherinian
By Joe Lalaina
“The music in my head encompasses such a variety of ground,” says ex–Dream Theater keyboardist Derek Sherinian. “I don’t think there is one guitarist who can cover all the styles featured on my albums. I’m very much a purist in that I go right to the source for whatever particular sound I want, whether it’s metal, jazz-fusion or progressive rock. I can’t help it if most of the guitarists who’ve played on my albums happen to be really famous.”
Sherinian has played with an astonishing array of players since his departure from Dream Theater in 1999, following the release of Once in a Livetime, his third album with the progressive supernova. Those guitarists include Slash, Zakk Wylde, Yngwie Malmsteen, Allan Holdsworth, Al Di Meola, Tony MacAlpine, John Sykes, Steve Stevens and Steve Lukather, not to mention his former DT cohort John Petrucci as well as playing a one-off gig with Eddie Van Halen. Pretty impressive for the Santa Cruz, California–born keyboardist, whose stellar résumé also includes touring and recording with Kiss, Alice Cooper and Billy Idol.
With Yngwie Malmsteen
Sherinian is living a life most keyboardists only dream about. “You have to think big and not be afraid to pick up the phone to get people to participate in your music,” says Sherinian, now a solo artist as well as a founding member of Planet X. “Unless you’re a lead singer/keyboardist, it’s not easy for keyboardists to make a name for themselves. We have to surround ourselves with other types of musicians because we can’t survive on our own. I’ve been fortunate that some of the world’s greatest artists have played on my albums. Whenever I’ve wanted a certain musician, I tried to get a hold of them even if I didn’t know them. I knew it was worth a shot and I had nothing to lose. I mean, the worst they can say is no.”
Evidently, people have been saying yes to Sherinian. Judging by the potpourri of guitarists who have played on his five solo albums, there’s something about his affable charm, talent and heartfelt passion for music which attracts world-class players far and wide (we didn’t even mention that some of the other musicians on his albums include bassists Jimmy Johnson, Tony Franklin and Billy Sheehan, drummer Simon Phillips, and violin virtuoso/ex-Mahavishnu Orchestra member Jerry Goodman).
Sherinian takes great pride in teaming up world-renowned musicians on individual tracks. Both the title track and “The Monsoon” from his most recent solo album, 2006’s Blood of the Snake, feature Zakk Wylde and Yngwie Malmsteen. Among the highlights of 2004’s Black Utopia are “The Sons of Anu,” which brings together Malmsteen, Di Meola, Goodman, Sheehan, Franklin and Phillips—wow—and “Axis of Evil,” which presents that same lineup but with Wylde instead of Di Meola. Another chops-intensive tour de force is “Day of the Dead,” from 2003’s Mythology, which features Wylde with Allan Holdsworth.