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Derek Sherinian's Whirlwind Career Teaches Lessons, Opens Doors


While many progressive rock fans recognize the name Derek Sherinian as the current keyboardist of Planet X and the former keyboard player of Dream Theater, many more may not have realized that they have seen or heard him play. Derek is not one to sit idle between recording and touring with Planet X.

From humble beginnings as a 5-year-old who, as Sherinian put it, "always gravitated towards a piano in my parents house," to starting his own band and along the way gaining a musical education at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Mass. and performing with music industry icons, Derek developed a serious passion for playing.

Sherinian's first break came when he joined up with Alice Cooper. His keyboard work can be found on Cooper's Last Temptation and Classicks albums.

"My Berklee classmate Al Pitrelli hooked me up with Alice," Sherinian recalled. "Cooper was a very great stepping stone for me and many other musicians."

His next break had Sherinian with KISS during its 1992 tour in support of Revenge, as an offstage musician.

"It sucked being offstage, but it was KISS and I wanted to live that experience. There are only two keyboardists to ever tour with Kiss so I am proud to be in that elite group." Derek said.

But even as an offstage musician, there were some benefits to being on the road with KISS compared to his onstage touring with Cooper.

"I got more girls even offstage on the (Revenge) tour," Sherinain said.

And while these experiences opened the door for Derek, teaching more about "the touring business and the record business on a pro level," Sherinian's growth as a professional musician was sparked by joining Dream Theater.

"Dream Theater was obviously a very important time for me in my career," Sherinian said. "Although mutually we weren't each other's ideal match, I think we made some good tunes and played a string of great concerts together. I am proud to have been a member of Dream Theater."

And Derek did not rule out working with them again in the future.

"Obviously it would be a great opportunity for [Planet X] to do a tour with a band like Dream Theater," Derek said. "I also know a lot of fans would love to see a Planet X/Liquid Tension Experiment tour. I say bring it on!" (Liquid Tension Experiment is a side project that features Dream Theater members Mike Portnoy on drums, John Petrucci on guitar and Jordan Rudess on keyboards, with Tony Levin on bass and is all instrumental music like Planet X).

And being around the guys in Dream Theater -- regarded by most in the industry as elite musicians -- Derek stepped up to their level of excellence.

"[Being in Dream Theater] forced me to play my instrument at my full capacity, and that capacity was constantly being challenged," Derek said. "That is how you get better as a musician."

Derek has continued surrounding himself with musician who will continue to push his abilities. When playing with Planet X bandmates Virgil Donati (drums) and Tony MacAlpine (guitar), "my capacity is challenged to a greater degree."

Derek keeps himself busy between Planet X responsibilities. Recently, he has toured with Yngwie Malmsteen and Billy Idol, is working on his second solo record and even takes time away from his keyboard duties to help produce for unsigned talent.

But through it all, Derek remains humble about his place in a musical scene that is dominated on the radio and other mainstream musical outlets by generic, corporate-driven music.

"I am grateful that I am able to make my music and have it distributed around the world. For me to complain would be preposterous."

Editor's Note: This article was originally published in 2003. Promo photo courtesy of Derek Sherinian.

Copyright 2009, Brian Heaton. All Rights Reserved.