Imagine, for a moment, that you're an aging rock star whose guitarist just helped write and record the biggest album of your career. What would you say to him when he finished cutting the guitar tracks? "Thanks"? "Love ya"? "I couldn't have done it without you"?
Try this: "You're fired."
Hard to believe,isn't it? But that's what happened to Blue Murder guitarist John Sykes after he helped David Coverdale write and record the multi-platinum 1987 album "Whitesnake."
"Me and David, we wrote the songs between us," says Sykes. "We went to France, wrote the songs, then took the whole thing over to Los Angeles, which is where we found Aynsley Dunbar, the drummer.
"We started recording up in Vancouver with Mike Stone at Little Mountain Studios, and as the closing part of the drum stuff was getting finished, Aynsley comes to me and says he's been fired. I thought that was kind of strange, because David hadn't really talked to any of the band members about it. We couldn't really figure it out.
"So Neil [Murray, the bassist] finished up his parts, and he got fired. This is over a period of months. And then, I was just wrapping up guitars, Mike Stone phoned up his office and he found out that he'd been fired."
Sykes, needless to say, freaked. Fearing that he was on the losing end of a game of musical chairs, he tried calling Coverdale, who was in Los Angeles. But the singer neither answered the phone nor returned calls. Desperate, Sykes called John Kalodner, the Geffen Records executive in charge of the project.
"I'd realized that everybody who's finished up their job is history," says Sykes. "So I said to John: 'Look, I'm kind of wondering what's going on. I can't get ahold of David, and I'm starting to wonder if I've been fired.'
"And he said, 'Well, it's kind of looking that way.' "
Sykes was devastated but determined to finish the album. "My option was to quit right then and not finish the guitars," he says, "but obviously that would mean he'd get someone else in to do guitars -- and I didn't want that to happen, seeing as I'd written most of it with him. So I finished up the guitar leads, and just walked away from it."
Well, almost. Sykes found out where Coverdale was mixing the album and flew out for a final confrontation.
"I went into the studio and caught him, and it got into a little bit of a shouting match," recalls Sykes. "One thing led to another, and he wound up locking himself in his car, shrugging his hands like 'It wasn't my choice.' Then he just drove off."
After being burned by Coverdale and Whitesnake, Sykes decided he wasn't going to be someone else's employee again. "I thought I'd put my own thing together, and that's when I thought up the Blue Murder project," he says.
"Originally, that was going to be Cozy Powell on drums, because we'd always been talking since 'Slide It In' on the '84 [Whitesnake] tour. But then he ended up joining Sabbath." Instead, Sykes went with Carmine Appice -- who has since been replaced by Tommy O'Steen (formerly of the Baltimore band Mannekin) -- and started to find his own sound.
"I get people coming up and saying to me, 'Wow, a lot of your stuff really sounds like Whitesnake,' " he says. "I have to say to them, 'Listen to the prior-to-'87 stuff. That's the way I write, and that's the way I approach songs.' Because to me, the song is where it's at. Without a song, you ain't got nothing."
Get into 'Trouble'
To hear excerpts from Blue Murder's new album, "Nuthin' But Trouble," call Sundial, The Sun's telephone information service, at (410) 783-1800. In Anne Arundel County, call 268-7738; in Harford County, 836-5028; in Carroll County, 848-0338. Using a touch-tone phone, punch in the four-digit code 6243 after you hear the greeting.
When: Saturday, 8 p.m.
$ Call: (410) 481-7328