Adrian Gurvitz’s father was the tour manager for The Kinks, but he was determined to carve out his own identity as an artist — and he did just that starting at age 8.
Since picking up his first guitar, the now 69-year-old English rocker-turned-producer has enjoyed a thriving career that has spanned over five decades. As the lead guitarist for Gun, he achieved his first major hit with “Race with the Devil" in 1969. But he ultimately moved to Los Angeles where his life took an unexpected turn professionally.
Fox News spoke with Gurvitz about the inspiration behind his famous track, jamming with Jimi Hendrix and whether he’ll ever return to his rock roots.
Fox News: Are you surprised many artists today still consider “Race with the Devil” to be a holy grail of sorts when it comes to guitar playing?
Adrian Gurvitz: Yes, and it’s pretty great. So many people from all over the world have covered that song. I guess it was a pretty famous riff. I met a girlfriend in London one day, and she went back to America and she sent me three albums. One of them was Moby Grape, a flower-power rock band. One was Buffalo Springfield, and the other one was The Byrds.
But Moby Grape had this song called, "Hey Grandma." The guitar sound was very kind of fuzzy. I don't know, I just got it in my head, but when we went to the studio that day, that was the kind of sound that I dialed up, and that was the riff.
I was off to the studio to make this record for a producer, and when I got there, all I had was the guitar riff. He said, "Well, what else have you got?" I said, "Nothing. I've just got this guitar riff." He said, "Do you think you could write a verse?" The name of the band was Gun, so I thought, "You better run, you better run, you better run from the devil's gun. The race is on, the race is on, you better run from the devil's gun." Then did the riff again. Literally, we made the record up, and it was the first record I ever recorded. I'd never been in the studio before.
Fox News: You played at several London speakeasies with Jimi Hendrix. What was that like?
Gurvitz: Jimi came into town around '67, '68. We all used to go to a club that was actually called the Speakeasy. Everybody used to go there after a gig. Pete Townshend would be in there, Hendrix would be in there, [Eric] Clapton. We met loads of people, and I used to go there all the time. We were all there every night. That’s where we found our girlfriends.
One night, I was there and I met Jimi. We chatted away, and he said, "Hey, man, you want to get up and jam?" I said yeah. It was my first time getting up and jamming with Hendrix. We played for about an hour. It was a real moment… We ended up playing three, four times together.
There was another club in South Kensington, where [Paul] McCartney and [John] Lennon — everybody used drugs. I went there one night and Jimi was already there. He said, "Come on, man, you want to jam?" This time he picked up the bass and he let me play guitar. I was s—- scared, I was like, "How the hell do I get through this?” It was a scary night, but I think I did OK.
Fox News: It sounds like both of you became musical comrades.
Gurvitz: When he did the Monterey Pop Festival, I went there with my best friend to hang out and see the show. In the middle of his set, he started to play “Race With The Devil,” which just blew my mind. I never thought Jimi would play my song, Then later, unfortunately, he OD'd, and that was one of the saddest days ever. Nobody played like Hendrix, let me put that right down right away. Nobody. I think he was the greatest electric guitar player of all time, and will ever be. But I had fun pretending to be a little bit like him. I loved him.
Fox News: Did it surprise you that he passed away at such a young age?
Gurvitz: Well, of course, but it was just — I don't know. I don't know about this 27 club, it's like everyone who's 27 dies and becomes a superstar. He vomited because he'd taken in so much, whatever he'd taken in that night… and he suffocated in it. Otherwise, he would still be here today. I think that Jimi was just into everything. Whatever he could take, whatever he could do. Surprised? I'm not sure I was totally surprised, because people that do a lot of drugs and drink a lot, mix them together, stuff like that is going to happen. It just happened to the greatest guitarist that ever lived. I was shocked, obviously. He was there that night at Speakeasy with me, and I think I remember him leaving the club with some German girlfriend. But I was in total shock. The greatest loss ever.
Fox News: How did you and Stevie Wonder become such good friends?
Gurvitz: I'd met Stevie in the Record Club during the ‘70s. My son Darien became friends with Kailand, Stevie’s son. They've become best friends. Stevie is like family. He lives two miles from my house. His son literally grew up in my backyard. He also took my son on concerts and tours. We spend birthdays together. We're just intertwined as a family. He's an amazing guy. I love him.
Fox News: How was it transitioning from hard rock to pop and R&B in the ‘80s?
Gurvitz: I sold a lot of rock albums, but I was really into some softer records, like Boz Scaggs, and a lot of the ‘80s music, or the late ‘70s music. I just got into the soul records. It kind of led me away, a bit, from rock. Every now and then I went back to it for a minute, but I kind of divorced rock. Of course, I regret it now. Well, no, you know what? You can't regret anything.
My life just went a different way. I had four children. I love my kids. Who knows what would have happened to me if I'd of carried on with rock. I'm still making records every day and enjoying it and loving it. I don't know, maybe rock might've led me down a wrong path… There were a lot of other people that I knew were dying… and they all were attached to rock.
I kind of took a different view of things. And you know, one of the biggest influences was my mother, because I adored her. She was the greatest person I've ever met in my life. I used to look after my mom and my grandmother. I had a responsibility of making sure I was there for them, and rock kind of takes you away a little bit from responsibility. I guess that's the answer.
Fox News: Is there any chance you will return to rock?
Gurvitz: I’ve got to tell you a funny story. My son, who is 23, Ben, who is the most phenomenal guitar player I've ever heard at 23, he lives for all the old rock, not interested in pop. He came over the other night for dinner, and he says, "Dad, you've got to do one thing for me before you die." I said, "Well, hopefully, I won't die this week, mate." He said, "You've got to do another rock album, please. I think people would love it. You've just got to do it. Do it really real, no pro tools. Get into the studio with your 24 tracks, or get the right players, the really authentic, and do a rock album." He says, "I'll even produce it with you."
I was blown away that he wanted his dad to go back and do a rock album. Then I said to my wife, "I'm going to do a rock album." She says, "It'll kill you." No, it won’t. She said, "Yeah, but you love working and making all the records and running your record company. Why would you walk away to do that?" I said, "Maybe I can find some time to do it." It's on my mind to do…. Maybe I'll go back.
Fox News: What has kept you motivated to work with other artists?
Gurvitz: You know what, I don't even know. I think that, because when I moved to California and I wasn't really around the European British market who mostly knew more about what I did, I enjoyed producing and songwriting. Somehow it led me to produce other people. It wasn't so much pressure…. It actually came to my mind the other day where I said to [my wife] Elaine, "I think I'll do an Adrian Gurvitz album. I don't see any reason why I shouldn't. I've been doing all these records and producing all these records for everybody. Why don't I do an Adrian Gurvitz album? I'm sure a lot of fans would enjoy it." Just put it out there, as a vintage thing. Like, here I am.
I think a few years ago you had to have a record label to do that, but now you don't. You can just put your record out and it's out all over the world. And I certainly don't need anyone to help me to make the record, other than musicians. It is a good idea to do that, but I don't know the answer. Life, like Lennon said, happens while you're busy making other plans. I was making other plans.