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  • Bob Gruen

    Posted March, 2010

     

    Bob Gruen @ MoMA Collage Exhibit © Mandi Newall

    Elvis. Aerosmith. Elton John. The Stones. Alice Cooper. Zeppelin. Lennon/Yoko. Dylan. Frampton.

    These artists and icons dominated my mind (besides girls) in my youth. Photo’s torn from my favorite rock magazines and posters purchased in the store (for the astronomical price of $1!) hung on my bedroom walls.

    The images are burned into the firmware of my mind. Their poses, grimaces and smiles frozen forever in their youth. The close that they were in the shots influenced how I dressed and looked. Jeans and jackets were purchased because of something similar Bob Dylan wore in a photo. Platform shoes? Thank you, Elton John. Hair? Thanks to a still shot of Mick Jagger in concert at Madison Square Garden, I started parting my longish hair in the middle, trying to feather it back just like Mick.

    What single thread runs through these memories? Many of the photos that hung on my walls, influenced my “look” and burned into my memory banks were taken by famous rock photographer, Bob Gruen.

    Gruen was destined for rock and roll. An avid fan of The Who in the sixties, they were the band that compelled him to join a crowd a half a million strong at a place called Yasgur’s Farm. There, he witnessed not only the band that he braved the crowds and eliments to see, but many other historic performances that made the Woodstock festival the stuff of legends.

    After Woodstock, Gruen eventually worked his way to the position of chief photographer for Rock Scene Magazine. This afforded him the coveted vantage point of creating candid photos of bands and artist on and off the stage. 

    Bob Gruen didn’t allow himself to be stuck in the seventies. His interest in the music scene allowed him to effortlessly go with the flow of changes in the sights and sounds of musical tastes. Gruen has covered almost every major act and artist the 70’s to today.

    I recently caught up with Bob Gruen, by phone, at his gallery in New York City. For some reason, I decided to start off the interview by asking Bob what career path he would’ve chosen had he not gone down the rock photographer path. As with his answer during the rest of our conversation, his answers are open, honest and transparent.

    “I have no idea. Well, the 60’s were a different time from now. Now, people really plan their future and their career. In the 60’s it was turn on, tune in and drop out. And that’s basically what I did. I wasn’t really thinking about a career. I didn’t really do very well in school and I didn’t have a major in college.

    “I had an older brother who was an overachiever who always got straight A’s and it kind of left me with not much will to succeed on that level – to compete on that level. So, I was living with a rock and roll band and having a good time. “

    So, the obvious question in your mind would be, why photography, so I asked.

    “Photography was always my hobby and I got pretty good at it. When the band got signed, they used my pictures for the publicity. I started meeting publicists for record companies and they started hiring me to take more and more pictures. It just worked out that way. 

    “I didn’t really have a plan to be a photographer in any specific sense – to be anything. A policeman, fireman, anything like that. I really didn’t have a plan. I was aimless.”

    Boy, weren’t we all!

    Having read his thoughts about attending Woodstock, I asked if he took any pictures while he was there.

    “I did, actually. I went as a fan of The Who and I like camping out. Me and a couple of friends went up there to have a good time. It’s funny, the pictures I took. I did take pictures of my friends inside our tent so I have some ‘head shots’ with a green tent behind them but they don’t show much of the festival. 

    “I did find a couple of dozen pictures of the festival that I took - a couple around my tent and a couple of the stage area. I didn’t take any of the acts. I wasn’t there to work in that sense. I hadn’t yet started getting into the music business yet.

    Last summer, a French magazine asked me to put down my memories from Woodstock. He (the editor) liked the idea that I was there as a fan and not working so I put together a story and put it up on my website (here.).

    I asked Bob if he attended the 40th anniversary festivities back in August of last year.

    “Not the 40th. No, we didn’t go – or the 30th. We went to, I think, the 25th. Not the one that turned into an overblown riot but the first reunion which turned into a drunken mess.  We left half way through it.

    “Actually, I went up the hill into Woodstock to see a real show. We saw The Fugs, with Alan Ginsberg, who were playing on the Saturday night of the festival. 

    All of us have stories of regrets and missed opportunities. I asked Gruen if there were any shots or gigs that got away from him that he regretted missing.

    “Oh, well, there are a lot of things I missed. I wish that I could have photographed Otis Redding but I started a little too late to connect with him. I met Jimi Hendrix once. He said, ‘We’ll meet again’ but he was wrong” he adds with a sad chuckle before concluding by saying, “But, other than that, I’ve pretty much met or photographed everybody that I wanted to.

    Lots of changes have happened both in the music business and in the world of photography in general. I asked Bob what he viewed as the most positive changes in his line of work.

    “Oh, well, the ease of delivery. We don’t have to rush to dupe slides and hire messengers and ship things to England overnight. The idea of making multiple prints and rush and having to get them out to all the different magazines . . . now we just e-mail scans. It’s a lot easier.”

    And the biggest negative change in his line of work?

    “Photography has gotten so easy that there’s tens of millions of people doing it!

    “It used to be that a photographer had to be somewhat nerdy – to be a bit of a tech guy. You had to focus and know what F stops and speeds meant. You had to be able to develop and print film. All of those things have been automated. Now, you just pick up your phone and push one more button and whatever you’re looking at can be seen around the world. That’s quite an advance.”

    Gruen had voiced his displeasure with websites like Flikr. I wanted to know, though, if he saw the internet as more of a positive or a negative in his industry.

    “Well, it negatively affects the work because people tend to think that everything they see on the internet is ‘free’. Content is what I’ve sold all my life. Everybody think it’s free. It’s similar to the downloading of music files, people just take pictures and move them from one site to another and use them any way they want without even thinking that they have to pay for it. So, this tremendously cuts into the income when people aren’t paying for your work.

    I thought for sure that the proliferation of music videos and concert DVD’s over the years would have hurt the photography trade. Bob’s insights into this area set me straight on that perception.

    “People tend to watch videos on YouTube or whatever. You can’t put YouTube on your wall unless you have a big screen on your wall. It recently came up in an article. There was an exhibit recently at the Brooklyn Museum of Art called ‘Who Shot Rock’. It’s about Rock Photography. The reviewer wrote that he felt that video was the better way to review it. We all could’ve been up in arms about that. 

    “Video hardly captured the excitement of rock and roll at all. To capture one peak moment in a still photograph that says so much about the energy and excitement, the mood of an artist - you can only do that in a photograph – a photograph that you can put on a wall and it’s just there. You feel the inspiration. Not like having to turn on a TV or to operate the machinery or video. I don’t think that video cuts into the still. The appreciation is still photo. “

    As stated earlier, Bob Gruen isn’t stuck in the past. I was curious, however, what his thoughts of the past are. His answer is both philosophical and reflective.

    “I respect the past and I think people should learn from the past but I don’t dwell in the past. I don’t wish that I could go back to Max’s. It’s like we shouldn’t even go back to high school. Some people do but I certainly don’t. I look forward , looking for new experiences.

    Fast-forwarding to the present, I asked Bob what bands and artists command his attention today. His response is instant.

    “Greenday. There are a few others that I enjoy. I’ve seen Courtney Love. She’s a riveting performer. You can’t take your eyes off of her. But Greenday is certainly the top band of the land. They’re the most powerful and meaningful band around. And the most fun, especially if you’ve ever seen them live. They’re the most fun band around today.

    “There’s a group here in New York that I like called The Sex Slaves. They’re very blunt and also a lot of fun. But there’s not a lot. I was never somebody who ever sought to follow every single group that ever existed and have an encyclopedic knowledge of it. I just follow what I like. I’m a fan. I mostly follow my friends or people friends recommend. I’m not out every night on the prowl looking for a new band.

    “I’m a bit older now. Thirty years ago it was fun for me to sit on a bus with 22 year olds who are getting drunk but it’s not really the same any more for me.” With a laugh, he adds, “I’m a grandfather nowadays, I prefer to spend time with my family.

    With the mention of his family, I commented on the fact that his son, Khris, is pursuing a little bit different route in the music business than his.

    “Yeah, he’s just finishing up his third CD, which should be out soon. He’s got his fans and he’s getting more and more popular.  He started kind of late – somewhat intimidated by my reputation. Also, my ex-wife married Joe Beck, the jazz guitar player, who is a world famous musician. And I think that, rather than encouraging Khris, it kind of held him back a bit because he felt he couldn’t on that kind of level. And I’m very happy to see that he’s doing very well on his own and enjoying it a lot.

    In the course of the conversation, I mention the use of his photo of John Lennon that graces the cover of Philip Norman’s biography of the man. It brought to mind the many others Bob Gruen had known because of his line of work. I asked him who are some of the people that he misses either due to their death or retirement from active life and what is it that you miss about them?

    “I miss Joe Strummer – being able to hang out with him and spend time with him. His shows were great. He was great. It was great fun. Whenever my wife and I would go out to dinner with Joe Strummer, we would have to remind each other to bring our sunglasses because we knew we weren’t coming back until after the sun was up. When you walk out of a bar at eight in the morning you NEED your sunglasses” he finishes with a laugh.

    “Of course, I miss John Lennon – hanging out with him. He was great. Every time I saw him, I felt that I learned something.   I miss a lot of people. I miss Johnny Thunders. Joey Ramone. But I make new friends. The Sex Slaves, Green Day. You move on. That’s the down side to living longer than your friends, missing them” he says with a chuckle.

    With so many accomplishments that he can point to, I asked Bob what he would like to achieve that he hasn’t already. His deadpan answer floored me.

    “Make a lot of money.”

    Say WHAT?! I thought rock photographers made a lot of money?

    “No, this is a VERY low budget operation! I don’t know if there was more than two or three times in my life when I started the month with enough money to finish it. I mean, I never had a cushion where I knew my bills were paid. I’ve always had to work every week to insure that I would have an income.

    “I think that people tend to think that if you hang out with Led Zeppelin or John Lennon that you have that kind of money – that you live on that kind of level rather than just visit. I visit. But then I come home to a small apartment in the Village. I don’t have a yacht. For many years I never even had a new car. Only recently, because my wife has an income and she shares with me am I able to lease a new car.

    “I’m doing much better than I used to. I’m at least leasing a new car rather than driving my old beaters. It’s a misconception that you live the high life and travel around and make a lot of money. Some photographers do. A few. Not many. 

    “Certain photographers working with a ‘boy band’ who sells dozens and dozens of pictures to every magazine around the world - if you have good access to them then you can make some good money. But, for most people shooting most bands, especially nowadays there are so many magazines and so many online so-called magazines that pay practically nothing because there are tens of thousands of people interested in photography since it got so easy. And many of them will just give away a picture for the credit.

    “So, though prices have increased ten-fold, payment for photographs haven’t increased much at all since the 70’s. If anything, it’s going down because of so many more people willing to just put it out there for credit.

    “And then other things like Corbis and Getty – the major photo agencies that are buying up the other smaller photo agencies in the world – they’re trying to own the content and so they’re purposely setting out to put photo agencies and photographers out of business by licensing photos at tremendously discounted rates. I mean, photos that we license for four or five hundred dollars, they license for five or ten dollars, literally that kind of difference. And to have to try and compete with those kinds of prices, we can’t. That’s the point: those kinds of companies want to put all of the other people out of business. They want to own all of the content for the future because content is king on the internet.”

    Wow! Who woulda thunk it?

    How about touring exhibits? I wanted to find out where I could see exhibitions featuring his art and if books were available featuring him.

    “I don’t really have a world-wide agent organizing that. I’m still pretty independent here. So, I only do a few exhibitions a year. I do have a some planned in June for London and, possibly, in the fall in Paris. My John Lennon book is going to come out in French next October in France. 

    “I just had a big collage piece of my work that was in the Museum of Modern Art over the last summer, but that’s over now. ‘Who Shot Rock’ is going to travel to five other museums. It may actually be down south there.

    “We’re also excited about getting the show together for the opening here in NY – I don’t even have the list of where it’s going. It closed here January 31st. But then I know that it’s going to travel to a few other places.

    “My website, BobGruen.com, directs people to most of the available things. My photos are available from several different galleries here in the states. There’s one in particular that does a lot of business online. My books, Clash is still in print but hard to get. John Lennon is still available. The New York Dolls book is available on Amazon or BarnesandNoble.com or whatever website people want to go to. 

    “The best collection of my work, called Rockers. Currently it’s only published in Brazil but it’s available on my website but it’s a little pricey because it’s heavy and we have to ship it. I think its $60 or $70 with the shipping. But that’s the biggest collection of my work.

    “I’m currently just beginning to work on a book that will be out in the fall 2011 that will be an American published collection of my work.”

    My time with Bob Gruen was quickly coming to a close and I had a couple of more questions that I just had to ask. One had to do with his thoughts about the artists’ he knew (other than Lennon) who are no longer with us.

    “Joe Strummer comes to mind first. I spent a lot of time with him. Joey Ramone. He was a wonderfully sweet guy. Johnny Thunders was a good friend.”

    What about the other artist who he wasn’t quite as close to?

    “Quite a lot of my photos were just done as jobs. They were friendly but not necessarily friends. You’re pleased to see each other but you don’t go out to dinner with each other. Some of them you develop friendships with. As in any business where you work with a lot of people there’s certain people that you hit it off with and wind up being friends with.

    “I was lucky in that way to have a number of good friends.”

    I thought I was wrapping up the interview by commenting as to how I thought it said a lot about him with the fact that he was able to develop the relationship and friendship with John Lennon and Yoko and that he still has the relationship with Yoko. Only expecting a “thank you” for the compliment, Gruen, instead, takes the opportunity to defend his good friend, Yoko Ono.

    “You know, Yoko’s been very maligned in the newspapers and in the press. With her new album in the past year, she’s got quite a bit of positive press. But, when people ask me what kind of women Yoko is, I always say that she’s the kind of women that John Lennon could marry.”

    Since he opened the door to discussing Yoko Ono, I asked Bob what he thought the biggest misconception about her was.

    “The biggest misconception? That she doesn’t have a sense of humor. John said that she’s the most famous unknown artist in the world. Everybody knows who she is but nobody knows what she does. And I think with her new album out, she’s getting a lot of press, she’s getting a lot of attention. More people are getting to see her perform and starting to get an idea of what a wonderfully open and how much humor her work has.

    “She’s quite prolific. On her website,Imagine Peace, she answers 10 to 15 questions every week from people all over the world. They just write in questions and she comes up with almost zen-like answers. She’s got a Twitter feed that she updates every few hours with, again, zen-like conceptual art ideas. She’s just fascinating.”

    Soon after, we wrapped up our chat. While going through the rest of my hectic schedule on that January day, I reflected on the gems that Bob Gruen gave me in the way of stories and quotes. I also realized that Bob still influences us today. Long gone is our ability to squeeze into hip-hugging bell-bottom jeans and whose feet can handle wearing platform shoes? And I don’t even want to go down the path of discussing my hair. 

    No, those are pains we can do without. However, while Bob’s work from the past brings us smiles and memories, his work today is creating new impressions that will stay with us for the rest of our days.

    Thank you, Bob Gruen, for all that you’ve done and are doing.

  • Damon Johnson (2011)

    Posted May/June 2011

    I’ve had the privilege of meeting – and even interviewing – some great artists.  Each one displayed their own unique traits that impressed me.  Among the musicians I’ve come in contact with, the exceptional ones have always been those who have the ability to enjoy a diversified career and depth in their playing that crosses a variety of genres.  One such artist that I recently had the privilege of interviewing is Damon Johnson.

    I became aware of Johnson quite simply because I have been a long time fan of Alice Cooper.  Damon just so happens to be the guitarist for recent inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for the better part of the last seven years and is just the right kind of scary good player for a scary rock and roller.

    Johnson is a triple threat to the second power because, not only is he a tremendous rock guitarist, singer and song writer, he fills the same three pairs of shoes in the other genres as well. In Damon’s main area of expertise, rock, he first hit the national stage as the frontman, guitarist and primary songwriter for his band, Brother Cane, which headlined its own shows as well as toured heavily as an opening act for Aerosmith, Candlebox, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Robert Plant and Van Halen before breaking up in 1998.

    In the songwriting portion of Damon’s arsenal of musical weaponry, he has had his songs recorded by such rockers Sammy Hagar (Salvation on Sand Hill), Stevie Nicks (Every Day), Ted Nugent (I Won’t Go Away), Queensryche (Middle of Hell and Home Again), Skid Row (Ghost and See You Around) and Carlos Santana (Just Feel Better) as well as his former country band, Whiskey Falls.

    He’s also lent his licks and vocals to the likes of country star, Faith Hill, on her huge 2002 hit, Cry.  He’s also sang and played on projects with Sammy Hagar, Ted Nugent, Damn Yankees, John Waite, Slave To The System, and even The Temptations.

    When Damon isn’t on tour with Alice Cooper, he focuses his efforts on his other band, Brother Cane, as well as his own solo efforts such as his recent acoustic CD, Release – a phenomenal work that I can guarantee you will wear out from listening to it over and over again (you can read the Boomerocity review of it here).

    It was with great excitement that I was able to arrange a phone interview with Damon since our schedules couldn’t synch up at the recent Dallas International Guitar Festival.  It was a call that I was afraid wasn’t going to happen since, the day before, a devastating tornado hit Tuscaloosa, Alabama, shaking things up a bit near his home an hour away.  Fortunately, all was well at the Johnson household and our call went on as scheduled.

    We started off our chat by talking briefly about that tornado.  Damon shared that, “I’ve lived in Alabama ever since I was five years old and I’ve never seen a day like yesterday.  I’m 46 so that’s a long time, man! Tornados have become almost passé here – it’s just a way of life. But that one was like a terrorist attack or something! Man, it was just CRAZY! Pretty much, everybody I know, personally, has made out okay.  I have some friends who had some trees down in their yard but no real loss of property or, certainly, no loss of life. But, unfortunately, that’s not been the case with everybody. We’re definitely relieved and grateful, man!”

    As I mentioned, Damon was at the Dallas International Guitar Festival. What I didn’t learn until after the show was that Damon also attended the Phoenix wedding of Alice and Sheryl Cooper’s son, Dash, and then back to Dallas for his acoustic performance that Sunday afternoon.  It had to have been a mastery of logistics to have pulled that all off.  Johnson talks about it.

    “Yeah, I did go to Dash’s wedding. See, Brother Cane played Friday night. Then my wife and I got up early the next morning and flew to Phoenix out of Love Field to get there and then we were on a different airline to come back. So, we fly back to DFW Airport (about another 30 minutes or more of drive time than from Love Field) on Sunday and I literally got out of the cab and straight onto the stage with my acoustic guitar to sing back there at that Singer/Songwriter stage (one of several stages at the guitar show). It was a crazy weekend, man! It was fun! It was high intensity and always running behind, it felt like, but it was fun and met some great, new people and met up with some old friends. Somehow, we pulled it all off.”

    We steered our conversation around to discussing Damon’s latest CD, Release.  The album is a pleasant mix of rock, country and alternative in a package that transitions evenly from one genre to another without jarring the senses.  It especially bridges the gap between country and rock.  After sharing my take on Release with him, I asked Johnson what he set out to accomplish with Release.

    “Randy, it was really just about getting those songs committed to tape and get them out there into the atmosphere – out in the world. There’s fourteen tracks – three of those are ‘covers’ so the other eleven songs are part of a stack of 40 or 50 songs that I’ve written or co-written over the last 7 or 8 years.  They were things that just weren’t right for Slave To The System. They weren’t right for Whisky Falls but I knew that there was some good stuff there and I thought that the only way to get it out was to put it out under my own name.

    “I started working on this in my head a little over a year ago. A few people have said, ‘Well, we really would have expected another rock project out of you.’ And I said, ‘Precisely!’  That’s the whole reason why I wanted to do this because I’ve done so much rock and guitar-heavy stuff in recent years – particularly with as much as I’ve toured with Alice that the stuff I listen to in my spare time – particularly in the last several years – has been decidedly more American/Singer-Songwriter stuff.

    “I don’t know, man.  It was just my way to pretend that I could hang out with cool guys like Guy Clark and Steve Earle – the legend that is Van Zant. I really love Lucinda Williams and artists like that. I love what you just said, Randy, about it kind of bridging the gap between rock and country.  That is absolutely what I was thinking, as well. I’m glad that it came across that way. It’s really about the lyrics, the writing and the singing than it is about the guitar playing.  The fact that people have said so much nice stuff about my acoustic work is a real bonus because I had a great time making that record.”

    From the countless times I’ve listened to Release, I kept feeling that most of the album was introspective and contemplative.  Having been guilty in the past of not “getting” an album from time to time, I asked Johnson if was an accurate observation or if I was reading too much into it.

    “No, brother, I think that’s very accurate, Randy. A lot of people just weren’t able to know or understand when that first Brother Cane record came out in 1993, some of those were the first songs I had ever written in my life, man. I had always wanted to be Jimmy Page or Joe Perry when I grew up and hadn’t really given much thought to writing lyrics. I was a fan of great lyrics and songs that had great lyrics, but it just never occurred to me that anybody would ever care about what I had to say about anything. So I had let my guitar do the talking all those years.

    “So, being kind of thrust into that arena when I became the lead singer for Brother Cane – not long before we made that first record – it kind of opened up a whole new world to me. I’m so proud of how that material – the Brother Cane material – Randy, has stood the test of time.  But there’s no question that I’ve learned a lot and grown a lot.

    “Again, listening to so many great song writers, I just felt really inspired to want to just get my songs out there. I, too, felt like there was a lot of reflection in almost all of those songs and, somehow, they seem to fit together nicely even though Pontiac may lean a little country and Leave It All Behind could almost be a grunge song and Everyday and Better Days Will Come At Last – those are just great pop songs. But, somehow, it all worked. I just think that’s a credit to the songs and that’s what I’m most proud of, man, is each song seems to stand on its own.”

    A personal favorite of both my wife and I is the song, Pontiac.  It compels the listener to repeatedly play the song while driving with the one you love – especially if you’re fortunate to still be with the love from your youth.  As a boy born in the south, I could almost sense the pleasant smell of farms as I drive and listen to the tune.

    Damon laughs at the “farm” comment as he replies, “You’ve obviously listened to the CD, man, because I think Pontiac is the best song on the record.  It’s the song that I think stands the greatest – it deserves to be recorded the most. I’ve gotten so much flattering feedback on that song in particular.  Even a couple of Nashville artists have expressed the desire to want to cut it.  I’ve heard that kind of thing through the years so I don’t get too excited about it but it could certainly happen with that song. I think it’s deserving of that because it is very ‘every man’.

    “I laugh with my dad about it. I’m like, ‘Well, this is my attempt to try to be Bob Seger’ who I hold in such high esteem!  For us in the south, man, Bob Seger is our Bob Dylan! I’m not saying that Bob’s lyrics are simple but he just seemed to speak to the common man more than anybody else – or at least to that generation. So, I’m really flattered that you dig that song. I’m very, very proud of Pontiac.”

    When asked how long Release took to put together, Damon gives us the skinny.

    “I started putting a list of songs together while I was on the road with Coop last year – I’m sorry, in 2009.  Whiskey Falls wrapped up kind of early 2009 and I went back to work with Alice that spring. That was when the idea first came to me. I just had a list going on my phone. I would just go, ‘Oh, I like this song’ and it just kind of morphed out of that.

    “So, when I was home in January of 2010, a friend of mine has a great studio here and he took a meeting with me and we talked about some kind of schedule. So, it was nice, man, to sort of – in a way – work for somebody else in that the studio had a schedule to keep. I made it a point to be on time, try to get there as early as I could and stay there as late as they would let me and get as much work done as possible. Because, really, man, during those off days from being on tour with Alice, I’m trying to be with my wife and kids as much as I can. But I’ve got to give them some credit for being supportive of that whole thing.

    “But, to answer your question in a more precise manner, I think the whole thing, really, got recorded in about a month. And that’s, literally, like a Tuesday night here, a Saturday afternoon there, that kind of thing, so it wasn’t a super intensive, every day kind of thing. I was just trying to mix it up, man. That balance is something that I feel that I’ve struggled with my whole career so it’s been extra gratifying to get the support that I have from my family and then to be able to put out something that people have said some really nice things about has been very rewarding and really fulfilling.”

    For those of us who don’t walk on stage for a living, it’s hard to relate to being away from home for weeks and months at a time and then come home and try to be a spouse and

    Damon and Alice Cooper Recording Alice's Harmonica Solo and Cooper's House - Photo Courtesy of Damon Johnson

    a parent. I commended Johnson for tackling the challenges of balance and quality of home life because family is usually the first casualty in an artist’s life.

    “Well, Randy, I’ll share this with you, man – and that’s really cool what you just said. It inspired a thought within me. I used to think that it was easy, too. It used to be easy but I think that was when I was a lot more self-absorbed, man – just really selfish with my time and what I wanted to do. It’s a gross understatement but a marriage is a partnership.  Most musicians really fail at that. I say that with a lot of respect. I’m not saying that to be judgmental or to put anybody down. But, man, to be married to any creative person is a challenge because it’s almost like they have this sickness or this kind of ‘thing’ that overtakes them and there’s no on or off switch. It either comes or it doesn’t. Sometimes, it comes in waves and sometimes it doesn’t come at all. I think some of that struggle – that’s the word I’m looking for – some of that struggle to try to do a better job of finding that balance was absolutely reflected in this collection of songs. I think that was the place that I was at in my life as these songs came together.

    “Now, these songs mean different things to different people, as songs should, but I got some kind of fulfillment – it was almost like those songs were with me in those times of trying to just keep a grip on things. This rock and roll thing will beat-your-ass if you let it. It will beat up on your relationships and it can cause you problems if you don’t at least try to find some serenity in there. Forgive me for sounding all new age about it but I’m really sincere. This record means a lot to me and that was a big part of it.”

    It was at this point that Damon said something that has resonated with me ever since our call.  I mentioned in passing (while setting up another question) that I was about to celebrate my 31st anniversary.  Johnson cut me off by exclaiming, “Wow!  Well, I’m a lot more in awe of people that have held a marriage together for 30-plus years than I am – anymore – about a guy who has a platinum record or that got his face on the cover of a guitar magazine. That used to be the kind of thing that I held as measuring sticks. It’s just not anymore, man, because, in some ways, that kind of stuff is easy. There’s some things you do: you connect the dots and you go and do it. But, man, to keep a marriage going for 30-something years? Now THAT’s impressive!”

    Our chat about family matters led me to the fact that Johnson included his daughter, Sarah, on a couple of cuts on Release.  Her contributions to the project were substantive as she exhibited talent and maturity beyond her years.  I asked Damon how it worked out working with his daughter.

    “It was as special as any dad could ever imagine it to be. It was just that special, man. The thing that I have to say – this isn’t really bragging about Sarah; it’s more of a commentary – she’s naturally talented as a singer and equally talented as an acoustic player. She kind of picked it up for fun about three years ago. She got swept up in the whole Taylor Swift thing like so many other young girls did. Taylor really inspired a lot of young girls to think about writing songs and thinking about playing guitar, which makes her so special.

    “I could hear her (Sarah) singing. I could hear her practicing.  She even sent me a video one time when I was on the road with Whiskey Falls. It was her in front of her computer screen and she sang some song she had figured out.  It just leveled me. It was so – I mean, it was, obviously, adorable and sweet and all that stuff. But it was truly good! For awhile, I didn’t even think about it. I thought, ‘Well, you’re just being a typical father. Of course you think she sounds great.’ But, then, I went, ‘Wait a minute!  I’m in the business. I know when something’s good and I know when it’s not and SHE’s good and she sounds great!’

    “She came with me to a couple of shows – a couple of my acoustic shows. We did one down at Auburn University. I had been hired to play some function. These were all college kids. It was almost like a Greek social type of thing. In a way, I was almost like wallpaper because I’m just back there playing some songs. But it was cool and the kids were standing there with their drinks and watching me play.

    “Then I said, ‘Listen, I want to do something kind of special for you guys. I want to bring up a guest. This is my daughter. She wants to sing a couple of songs for you.’ Randy, she brought the house down, man! She – brought – the house – DOWN! And the reason why the kids reacted like that, obviously, is that they saw themselves in her.  They’re like, ‘She’s one of us and look at her get up there in her sun dress and just sit there on that stool – she’s like a young Joni Mitchell or something!’

    “I’m telling you this whole long story to tell you that she’s completely aloof to how talented she is. She doesn’t have that need to feed her ego that I had and all of my musician friends had and still have. It’s not about that for her. She just likes to do it. She just likes to sing. So, I was so grateful that it hit me that this would be an opportunity to try to get her voice recorded. It was her choice to sing Better Days Will Come At Last with me because she always liked that song. My wife actually came up with the idea of the Shelby Lynn cover – the Where I’m From where it has that lyric great lyric about being from Alabama and all of that.

    “Again, to reiterate, I couldn’t be more blown away and proud and just impressed with her natural talent.  She’s 18 – 17 when we cut the song. She’s been playing and singing since she was about 15. But, I’m telling you, man, she just went on about her life. It’s not like she’s hitting me up, ‘Hey, Dad!  I want to do that again. I’ve written some songs!  I want to go into the studio with a band.’  No, man, she’s going to college and she’s in a sorority.  She wants to be in international business.  It’s just something that she does. I love her diversity and that she’s into all of this stuff. I’ll always be eternally grateful for having her involved.”

    When I stated that I think she has a Sass Jordan-esque sound to her, Damon chimed in by saying, “What a flattering comparison, man! I think you’re dead-on about that. Any of the comparisons that she’s gotten have all been just quality singers. That makes me feel so proud!  Certainly, if she wanted to pursue it or continue it, I would do anything that I could to help her.”

    Alice Cooper’s album, Billion Dollar Babies, is the first album that turned me on to his work when I was a pre-teen.  Generation Landslide, about a society that degenerated into bedlam and anarchy, was one of my favorites on that disc.  I was curious as to why Johnson selected that particular song to cover and how he got Alice to sing it on the album.

    “Well, quite simply, Randy, my story is identical to yours. It was that album, and that song off that album, that really captured my attention for whatever reason. Ever since I did my first full tour with Alice in 2005, I’m always trying to get that song added into the set. Look, man, I get it. It’s a lot more acoustic based. It doesn’t have the arrangement, or even the production value, that all of his other great show songs have.

    “So, we talked about it in the golf cart. We’ve talked about it at dinner. So, it was just an awesome day when I asked him if he would come and play harmonica on it like the original version.  He was like, ‘Absolutely!’  He was flattered that I would ask him.  It turned out to be a super, super cool thing.”

    Wait a minute!  That’s not Alice doing the vocals?  Y’all listen to that cover of the song and tell me that Damon doesn’t sound just like Alice!

    Anyway, Damon sheds some more light on the subject.

    “Well, in the second what I guess is the chorus – it doesn’t feel like the chorus, really – but in the second chorus of the song he sings two lines and then we do the ‘La da da ta da!’ in unison.  It’s easily one of my top two favorite moments on the whole album. It just makes me smile.

    “It’s funny, when he was recording his harmonica part, he had the headphones on and he was listening to the track.  He knew that it was my session.  It was the recording that I had been piecing together.  Obviously, the dynamics were different because it’s more acoustic guitar and not as much electric. In a minute, he goes, ‘How did you get my vocal on there like that?’  And I said, ‘That’s not you, Coop. That’s me!’  His mouth dropped open and he said, ‘Are you KIDDING me?’ I said, ‘C’mon, man! The coolest part of the whole song was your vocal on it all those years ago.’ I’ve heard that song a hundred thousand times and it came so natural to sing it with all a lot of his same inflections and his same phrasing. That made my day for him to think that that was him when it was really me singing it.”

    “Listen, I’m going to blow your mind with this. Coop and I were talking about this song and the original recording. He said, ‘Damon, those lyrics were all pretty much stream of consciousness. We were just goofing around in the studio.  Mike (Bruce) or Glen (Buxton) had this guitar lick and, of course, Ezrin (Bob Ezrin, their legendary producer) morphed it into the genius that Bob always does. I just sat down with a notebook and just started ‘throwing up’ on the paper and that’s what fell out. We tweaked a line or two but, in general, it was all just off the top of my head.’

    “You could knock me over with a feather after that. I would’ve thought that he had labored for weeks over that – to come up with all of those killer lines. It’s just another commentary on the genius that is Alice Cooper. That’s what keeps me here with him for so long.  I just think he’s a really rare, special artist. And to get to work with someone like that and write with someone like that and just be a part of that whole fame that is Alice Cooper has been VERY special to me, Randy. It’s, obviously, raised the profile of my career and it’s been an amazing experience.”

    Neal Schon, John Guilford & Damon Johnson At The Dallas International Guitar Festival - Photo by Randy Patterson

    I asked Damon for the background story as to how he would up getting the Cooper gig.

    “Well, quite simply, one of the guitar players in his band right before I joined is an old friend of mine, Eric Dover.  Eric was getting ready to move on and he wasn’t 100% sure if he was going to leave Alice full time but he did take a break towards the end of his 2004 tour.  They held auditions and Eric had apparently told Alice that he needed to get me out there. The tour manager called and said, ‘Hey, we’re indeed having auditions. If you can come and play, we’ll give you a spot.’  I was like, ‘Wow!’

    “I just kind of knew that everyone from Hollywood would show up and they would all look like Izzy from Guns ‘n Roses, I don’t know.  And, sure enough, man, that was kind of the case when I got there. I showed up in jeans and a t-shirt, looking like that guy in Brother Cane that listened to too many Skynard records”, Johnson said with a self-deprecating laugh. “But I knew the songs, man. I knew those things inside and out.  I had learned the parts with all of the right notes and I jumped on the microphone and started singing background vocals and I think Cooper appreciated that because he’s got so many vocals in his songs that he needs as many strong singers on the stage as he can get. I think that kind of helped seal the deal.”

    Earlier this year, Alice Cooper was inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  Being asked if he felt the induction was having an impact on this year’s tour plans, Damon said, “It’s a real impact, man.  Alice and his manager are doing the right thing to take advantage of that momentum and they should. Coop should have been in the Hall of Fame 10, 15 years ago. But it is a great opportunity for him.

    “There’s a lot of chatter in the press and it’s just a good time for Alice and even all the old guys – the original band.  They’ve made a few appearances and have done some stuff, which has been really fantastic – certainly for fans like me that love seeing that group together again.  I just think now, man, it’s time to celebrate the whole career that is Alice Cooper.  He’s certainly got lots to talk about now in the press between the Hall of Fame and Bob Ezrin coming back to do the next album, which is a HUGE deal!”

    “This fall, they’re looking to release Welcome 2 My Nightmare.  It’s going to definitely be an extension of the original Welcome to My Nightmare, which is, for the people that don’t know, Alice’s first solo record without the original band. I’m sure that it’s going to be a two year period of activity – a lot of work. A lot of shows.

     “You know, I don’t think Coop is one of those kinds of guys that wants to keep doing a hundred shows a year into his seventies.  I’m sure he can see - not necessarily the finish line - but he can definitely coming where he really wants to scale it back to be with his family more. I know that he and Sheryl would love to be grandparents any day now. It would be fine with them!  Man, he’s earned that. He certainly deserves to be able to do whatever he wants.”

    As a fan of all sorts of music, my rocker friends and readers will often give me a hard time for my love for country music.  With a lot of Johnson’s body of work, such as his Whiskey Falls tunes, falling into the country genre, I asked him how his fans have reacted at the cross genre work that he does.

     “That’s a good question. I’ll tell you this: The people that come to the show, anybody that came to the show to see Whiskey Falls play live – to a man, everyone of them said, ‘Oh, I get it. I totally understand why you would shift gears mid-stream and go wholeheartedly into this.’  Randy, the sound of those four guys singing together is as good as anything I’ve ever heard in my life, much less have been a part of. I have really have attempted to conduct myself fairly humbly throughout my career as far as what I think about my songs, my singing, my band or whatever. But, I’m telling you something, man, those four guys singing together in harmony, I would put up against the biggest name harmony groups that you could think of – even the big guys.

    “I picked up the phone and called Alice and I said, ‘Coop, something really out of left field has come across my desk. It’s really special and I’ve got to give this a shot.’  Well, the first thing he did was say, ‘Why don’t you come and do the Christmas Pudding?’ That’s his annual Christmas charity thing. So, we did, man. In 2006, we came and sang at his event.  We brought the house down.  He and Sheryl came over to me afterwards and he said, ‘Damon, I totally get it! You’d be out of your mind to not do this!’

    “We just all assumed that it was going to be a slam-dunk, to be honest with you, Randy. We really did. I loved it. I loved those guys. I loved those songs. It’s just a shame that we ran out of funding. We ran into some tough times, economically, when the whole economy in general took a hit in the latter part of 2007. We just never could recover from it. We were on a tiny label but we had done so much in that one year, year and a half.  Everything from playing the Grand Ol’ Opry twice (to standing ovations) to opening dates for everybody!  Alan Jackson, Brooks and Dunn, Brad Paisley, Vince Gill, Leann Rimes, the list goes on.  It was good mojo, man. We just simply ran out of money.”

    Any chance of the band resurrecting?

    “I never say never, mainly because I did those guys so much and know the power of the sound of those four voices together.  But it’s just going to be hard. Everybody’s got families and other commitments. We just felt that we had this window that we could all focus our attention 100% at one thing and we gave it as hard a shot as anybody could.  We just couldn’t get it – we couldn’t poke through that bubble to get to the next level to at least start to generate a little capital so that we could sustain ourselves.”

    When I mention that many people are shocked to learn just how much a band has to support itself without any help from its record label, Damon concurs.

    “That’s the truth, man. There are some great people who work at some of these labels and it’s a hard truth that many young artists can’t fully appreciate unless they’ve been through it. There’s so much of it that you need to do on your own. You need to build your audience on your own. You need to make your first recording on your own. You need to sell some tickets and sell some product – on your own. Then, you can attract some of these ‘suits’ with big checkbook that can put a whole staff behind promoting a single on radio and crafting your image and shooting videos and photos and all of that.  They’ve got to think that you’re something special for them to do all of that.”

    On the heels of my Whiskey Falls question, I asked about the status of Brother Cane.

    “Here’s the status right now, Randy. Brother Cane has done three shows in the last eleven years.  When we called it quits in early 2000, we had just run out of gas. We had been beaten up by our record label changing presidents three different times and three different field staffs and heads of promotion at radio. It was a challenge. A little similar to Whiskey Falls, we just couldn’t make a living doing it any more. Everybody’s marriages were in the toilet – was just rough. Since then, I had sort of an allegiance to those guys – that original band because we had been through so much together.

    “As time transpires – this ties a little bit to the conversation we had about half an hour ago about family and about trying to find some balance – I do have that ‘disease’ of music. It’s going to be with me the rest of my days so I’ve got to find a way to scratch that creative itch, be a performer and be the breadwinner of my family. After all the projects that I’ve been a part of, I think – I know that I can’t outrun the shadow of Brother Cane anymore. It’s like, everywhere I go I get asked about it. I get such an amazing blessing – for lack of a better word, Randy – those songs have stood the way they have and that there is as much good mojo surrounding the name of that band – the songs that that band had. I wrote those songs. I sang those songs. I don’t think I’m going to run away from it any more.

    “Now, with that said, I’ve got to see how this touring year shakes out with Alice and kind of what his plans are for 2012. But I absolutely intend to do a lot more work with Brother Cane in the next couple of years.”

    The Alice Cooper tour isn’t going to last forever, so I asked Damon what was next after the tour was over.

    “One thing I won’t do is put something I don’t think is ready. I’d love to make another Brother Cane record but the first thing we’ve got to do is get the songs together. So, I’m going to hit the road with the mindset that I want to start gathering material and writing some more.  It is a challenge to write on the road. I’m sure that you’ve talked to enough musicians to get reinforcement on that. A lot of times, it’s enough of a challenge to be on time and to keep yourself healthy. With as much travel as we do, that will chew up a full day pretty quickly. But we’ll see.

    “I’ve talked to a lot of the guys I’ve collaborated with through the years and everybody’s in, man. Everybody is excited at this idea. I’m just really excited to know what the next batch of songs will sound like. I’m so proud of the projects I’ve done over the last five or six years – super proud of my latest album, Release. So, I want to know what’s next. I’d like to see what I can come up with. I got a lot to say – probably more now than ever before and I’d love to do it with an electric guitar now instead an acoustic. I’ve been playing electric guitar for so long that sometimes I don’t give it its own due. That’s kind of where I’m up right now – getting my chops back up because we’re getting ready to do these rehearsals – I’ve got the electric in my hand. It just feels good to work those muscles for a change. I love to play electric guitar. I’ve never been Mr. Hot Licks, super technical, Yngwie Malmsteen. But I can definitely close my eyes and just get lost in it. It’s another one of the selfish fulfillments that doing this so long has brought me. I love that.”

    Speaking of the electric guitar, at the Dallas International Guitar Festival, I had the privilege of visiting with John Guilford, founder and owner of Guilford Guitars.  Guilford manufactures the Damon Johnson HB-1 electric guitar.  John comes across as a truly humble and confident man who knows what he believes and has a strong moral compass.  I commended Damon with his affiliation with Guilford Guitars.

     “Super humble, man!  Very mellow. Very caring. Very attention-to-detail kind of guy. I think that’s rare, man.  A lot of these guitar luthiers are either chasing the dollar and being consumed with trying to be a business man, which is fine. Or they’re so nerdy-weird about guitar schematics and measurements and neck widths and wood and it gets like, ‘Ah, I don’t want to talk to this guy, either.’  I think that John strikes a great balance with all of that.  He’s a pleasure to work with and I’m honored to be involved with those guys. They make a beautiful guitar. It’s just been very flattering that they approached me with all of that.”

    Since it was obvious that Damon has put a lot of thought into what he wants to do, I asked him what he envisioned himself doing five and ten years from now.

     “Man, I think I’m going to be right here! I’m going to be making records. I want to be doing some amount of performing. But I’m hoping that in five or ten years I’m spending a few more days a year at home than I have the last five or ten. And I say that with excitement – not like, ‘Oh, I’ve got to give up this.’ I just want to lean a little more to the other side, Randy.”

    With a chuckle, he added, “That’s not to say if Joe Perry breaks his leg and Aerosmith calls and needs somebody - I would jump at an opportunity like that. I’m just not out there looking for excuses to start up another band anymore. That’s why so many of these things that you have so flatteringly asked me about – it just feels good to feel like I’ve got a plan. Let’s keep it simple. Let’s keep writing as always but let’s think about Brother Cane. Let’s think about another solo record and let’s keep working with Coop. And that’s enough, man! That is a full time music career!  Anything more than that would be overkill and I-have-been-guilty-of-overkill in my life!  So, I’m ready to see what the next 5 or 10 years holds in store. If I’m lucky, I’ll get to keep playing and to keep writing and have a few people out there paying attention and interested in checking it out.”

    As we wound up our chat, I asked Damon Johnson how he would like to be remembered long after he’s stepped off the tour bus for the last time.

     “Man, I would love to remember me as a guy that always felt like he was so lucky to get to do what he loved for a living. I don’t even think what they think about my guitar playing or my songwriting or my singing or any of that stuff. That’s the thing I try to get across to younger players, to my kids, to my family – I’m really fortunate in this day and age that I have spent my entire adult life getting to do what I love and to follow my passion. I can’t even explain how it happened, man!  Somehow, just staying committed to that, navigating all the bumps in the road has gotten me there.  How is that for an answer, man? I feel like I was really lucky to get to do what I get to do!”

  • Damon Johnson (2012)

    Posted January, 2012

    Among the many artists and bands who dominated the soundtrack of my youth in the seventies, two on my short list of favorites were Alice Cooper and Thin Lizzy.  Songs like I’m Eighteen and The Boys Are Back in Town struck the chord of teenage angst and confusion or elicited a sense of bravado that defied any real explanation.

    But, then, why did there need to be an explanation?

    Last year, when I interviewed then - Alice Cooper guitarist, Damon Johnson, it was (and still is) a personal thrill to be able to interview, a) such a great guitarist and, b) one who is connected to one of my childhood heroes.  Little did I know at the time that Damon would be making a seismic shift in his career that would fulfill a huge dream from his youth and connect yet again with a band from the soundtrack of mine.

    In August of last year, Damon announced that he was leaving Alice Cooper’s band and joining Thin Lizzy.  The news was met with both excitement and expressions of “what the heck?!” (or some variation of it). Then, earlier this month, Damon announced a few dates with his musical love child, Brother Cane.

    With all of these developments in Damon’s career in such a compressed period of time, I thought I’d better get off my ample butt and have a chat with the boy to find out what the heck is going on.

    Damon gave me a call from his Alabama home as he was resting up in preparation for Thin Lizzy’s European tour in just a few short days.  If you read my last interview with Johnson (here), you’ll recall that a horrific tornado had just devastated the town of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, very near where Damon lives.  I started our chat by asking him how the area’s recovery was coming along.

    “It’s recovered really well. We were fortunate. We live south of town so we didn’t get all the damage that some of the areas did. It was devastating in parts. But Tuscaloosa, which really got hammered – the biggest and the broadest – there’s still recover there and rebuilding but everybody’s good.  You know, man, you live out there in Texas, so you know what it’s all about. We’re not technically in the tornado belt but I don’t see why not. I mean, we should be with as many as we have. We’ve lived with that stuff our whole lives and nobody gets more freaked out about them than I do. I’m just as scared of them now as I was when I was eight years old. It’s serious stuff.  It’s no fun, brother!”

    We shifted gears to more pleasant subjects like Damon’s upcoming dates with Brother Cane.  I asked if this was the seminal start of a lot more work from the band.

    “I definitely want to build up something with Brother Cane, Randy. You know, the band broke up in the late 90’s – 1999. We had faced so much apathy from MTV, from even our record label, we had so much overhead when we would tour, it was just hard to make a living.  So we really just ran out of gas and said, ‘uncle!’ and went off to do other things.  But the band had so much exposure on the radio and so many people did get to see us through the years – particularly from all the opening slots that we did with Aerosmith, Van Halen, Robert Plant and tours like that. Everywhere I’ve been over the last decade I’ve been inundated with questions about Brother Cane or people commenting about how they love the songs or why I don’t do this or that. That’s because I’ve started no less than four other projects in the last ten years – definitely in an effort to try and get some kind of success with one of my own original music project. More specifically, bands that I had some ownership of and not just be a side guy.

    “My plan for this year – last summer, I pretty much started putting a plan together to work almost exclusively with Brother Cane and start putting together some solo acoustic stuff for this year. I had told Alice about it and I was going to transition out of Alice’s band and, in his words, just take a break for awhile.  He and I love each other, man!  We love working together so I knew that there was a security blanket there – of a place that I could go back to after working on Brother Cane.

    “But, of course, the Thin Lizzy thing changed everything. I didn’t want to just bail out completely on the Brother Cane activity particularly because I had talked about it so much and have been putting some energy in that direction.  Thin Lizzy is my number one priority for obvious reasons. But, whenever it makes sense and whenever I can put it together, I absolutely want to book some Brother Cane stuff – as many as 20 or 30 dates, if possible, maybe more, depending on the schedule.”

    Because Brother Cane performed at last year’s Dallas International Guitar Festival (as well as a solo acoustic performance by Damon), I asked Johnson if he was bringing Brother Cane to it again this year.

    “I so wish that we could do that again, man!  Jimmy (Wallace) and all of the guys at the guitar show basically invited us the week after we played last year.  They said, ‘Man, we want Brother Cane back and we want to do this again.’ I’m afraid there are going to be Thin Lizzy dates. We’re slated to go back to Europe, doing some more package dates with Judas Priest over there. We just did that run in the U.S. with them in October and November. It’s an incredible tour and was very well received. Nothing has been posted, Randy, but, from what I know, that’s kind of what’s gonna be the plan. I’ve got word from the head office to count on Thin Lizzy work starting on the first week of April.”

    After I tightly crossed my arms, stuck out my lower lip and pouted with all my strength, Damon added, “Like I said earlier when we were talking about ownership, I would’ve probably jumped at the Thin Lizzy thing – when I did jump at the Thin Lizzy opportunity anyway – and it started out as just another side man thing similar to what I had done with Alice. But what I wasn’t expecting – or even thinking about – was for those guys to have a meeting with me and offer for me to become a partner in the band – in the touring company. That kind of thing is so unheard of these days and particularly for a heritage act like that that’s been around for awhile, I was floored.

    “As anyone who I’ve done interviews with knows, I’ve blown the Thin Lizzy horn loud and proud my entire twenty-plus year professional career.  That band has massively influenced me as a writer and a guitar player. I’ve said before that I feel like Mark Wahlberg in that movie, Rock Star.  You get to join your favorite band. That’s my life, man!

    “The Brother Cane fans are so cool. I wish that there were more of them. Again, that’s why the band ran out of steam in the first place. We just didn’t quite reach critical mass like a lot of other acts. But the people that loved the band are die-hard and very vocal about it. They’ve been real supportive and they get the Thin Lizzy thing because we used to do Lizzy covers!  So, they get it and out of a commitment to the fans I wanted to go ahead and book this first run of dates, Randy.

    “The first show we’re doing is going to be March 2nd (2012) up in Flint, Michigan. We’re going to try to squeeze in five or six shows in the month of March and we’ll go from there. We’ll see.”

    When I responded by saying that perhaps Brother Cane will be to him what Black Country Communion is to Joe Bonamassa, Johnson responded, “I would love to do that, man. I would SO love to do that. I’m thinkin’ down the road, too, it’s not always a lot of fun for a lot of my friends who are side men, as well, to be a slave to waiting on the phone to ring. Sometimes, it doesn’t ring, man. It can be frightening, particularly in this day and age. I feel so blessed, so lucky that I’ve had some of the accomplishments that I’ve had- specifically, a situation like Brother Cane.

    “Another thing, I held off forever on doing any work with Brother Cane because I felt for so long that it had to be the original guys and it took me awhile for me to get over that. Now I’m over it. I hear it from old radio friends, from people in the business who say, ‘Look, Damon, we don’t know what the band looks like. You guys weren’t on MTV. All I know is that you sang those songs; you wrote those songs and that’s your guitar playing that’s featured on there.’

    “So, I called up my drummer, Scott, and said, ‘What do you think?’ and he said, ‘Yeah!’ That’s the plan. If we can work with the other original guys, if the schedule permits, absolutely, man!  It’s just hard to get everybody together because everyone has lives and commitments and other things happening. But, for Scott and I to go ahead and book some dates and not have to wait on the perfect line-up, it means that we’ll get to do more shows and that’s what we really want to do.”

    Putting a nice little bow on the Brother Cane discussion package, I asked Johnson if there were any plans for a new Brother Cane CD in the future.

    “I’m definitely writing and would love to do another CD, Randy. Absolutely.  I mean, really and truly, we weren’t a big enough band that we could go out there and play the hits like Alice Cooper can or like Thin Lizzy can. We just didn’t have that big of a catalog so I think it would be almost vital – if we’re going to tour, if we’re going to crank up that machine again, then we’re going to have to have some new music to be talking about, playing and be promoting and mix that into the catalog, as well.”

    To shift gears over to begin discussing Damon’s move to Thin Lizzy, I led into the subject by mentioning what some of the chatter about his move was like among Boomerocity readers and fans.  I asked Johnson what he had heard from his fans about the move.

    “The people that really know me and the people who have followed my website and come to my acoustic shows and have really been a Damon Johnson fan, you could’ve asked any of them, ‘Hey, what would Damon decide to do’ and they would say, ‘Thin Lizzy without a question’. Yes, Alice is a bigger name in many countries – certainly in the United States.

    “Alice has had 20-something guitar players in his line-up which blows a lot of peoples’ minds. They don’t even believe me when I tell them that but it’s a fact!  Alice is a solo artist and that’s his band, it’s his entity, it’s his trademark. Essentially, for a guy like myself who has a big family and has a lot of people counting on him – it’s almost like a professional athlete. You go and play for a team. They bring you on, you work out a deal and say, ‘This is what I’m going to work for’.   Then, another team will call you and say, ‘Hey, we can move some things around and we can draft you on this team and we can pay you twice as much money.’  Hey, man, it’s like getting a promotion in any other job.  That’s the reality of life and I really laugh sometimes when I see people criticizing any band that’s out playing and go, ‘Oh, these guys are just out there for the money!’  That’s just life! You’re born. You go to school. You get a job, make money and then you die!  That’s the whole gig! So, if your craft is guitar playing, then you’ve got to look for work as a guitar player.

    “Alice has been such an amazing employer beyond being one of my best friends in the world. I always feel a little uncomfortable talking so much specifics about what’s up with it but I probably would’ve taking the Thin Lizzy job just on the sheer terms of the financials of it. But, like I said, anybody that knows me they know that it’s way beyond that. I would’ve taken a pay cut, Randy, to play with Thin Lizzy!  That’s how much that it means to me, man!  I would!  That stuff changed my life.

    “Was I a fan of Alice Cooper as a kid? Yes. I was a fan of some songs. But, bro, I can tell you, out of eleven studio records that Thin Lizzy made, I can tell you the song order on eight of them – what’s on side a and what’s on side b and who’s playing what guitar solo, what the lyrics are, what key it’s in. It’s just a different passion for me as a fan, as a guitar player and as a songwriter being associated with Thin Lizzy. This is actually fun for me to talk to you about this in such terms because, in a way, I can’t really say it any better than that. And, yeah, Alice is amazing and he’s a legend and an icon. The Thin Lizzy opportunity would’ve never happened for me had it not been for Alice. I owe him nothing but gratitude, love and support. I just saw him over New Year’s Eve and I know that I’ve got a home there – playing guitar for that guy for as long as he wants to keep doing it. And, I assure you, man, Alice Cooper is NOT going to retire at sixty-five.  He’s gonna be doing this for a long, long time, as he should!

    “When I used to listen to Thin Lizzy songs as a kid, it would bring me to tears or it would motivate me in some relationship I was in. I have countless stories about it, man!  You know die-hard Beatles fans or die-hard Zeppelin fans? That’s the kind of fan I am of Thin Lizzy.  And now I’m their guitar player!  It’s unbelievable!  That stuff just doesn’t happen!

    “I went to see Ted Nugent in Huntsville, Alabama, in 1979 at the Vaun Braun Civic Center and we didn’t know who the opening act was until we walked in the building. One of the ushers or security people said, ‘Yeah, it’s this band, Thin Lizzy’.  All I knew was The Boys Are Back In Town and those guys came out and just crushed my face! I was fifteen or sixteen and I hit the streets the next day looking for as much Thin Lizzy as I could get my hands on. It’s been almost an obsession for almost thirty years!

    “Eric Bell. Brian Robertson. Gary Moore. Snowy White. John Sykes. And, now, Damon Johnson. Wow!  Come on, man!  Come on!  Maybe I have done it for egotistical reasons, too.  I mean what a list of names to be associated with!  Every one of those guys are world class, amazing guitar players. And, ever since I’ve officially joined the band, I’m a part of every business meeting. I’m a part of every conversation about the set list, about new material, about the tour, about these dates. That’s incredible, man!  That’s what I had with Brother Cane and I haven’t had that kind of thing since then. So, I feel a lot of pride and a lot of gratitude, man.

    “It’s tough to compartmentalize that answer when someone says, ‘Hey!  What was that guy thinking, man?! Alice is so much bigger!’ I’ll let you tell ‘em.  You can explain it!” Damon says with a laugh.

    “And I’ll tell you this, too, Randy, when I leave Sunday to go to London, we’ve got three days of production rehearsals and then we’re doing a four week run.  We’re playing many of the exact same venues that I play with Alice and, in some cases, we’ve already sold those out. Not everybody can sell out 2,000, 3,000 seat venues. Thin Lizzy meant a great deal to European fans, much more than they did over here in the States.  Then, I talk to fans in the U.K. and they don’t have a clue who Brother Cane is. They don’t have a clue, man, and we were a staple on rock radio for seven years. You couldn’t turn on rock radio and not hear a Brother Cane song.  It just depends on timing and a lot of factors that are obviously out of your control.”

    I had read recently that Johnson had a pretty sweet gig in Hawaii during the New Year’s celebrations.  Among the rock and roll dignitaries who Damon performed with were Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler, Michael McDonald and Pat Simmons from the Doobie Brothers, and Mike Meyers.  I asked him to tell me about that.  With a laugh that reflected his “can you believe my luck” feelings, he responded by saying, “Yeah, man, that supports my statement earlier that I’m a part of the Alice Cooper family and, hopefully, will be for years to come. Yeah, it worked out that the band guys – Chuck (Garric), Tommy (Henriksen) and Glen (Sobel) – were going to come and work with Coop, who was going to be the featured act at this charity event that Alice’s manager has there in Maui every year.

    “When the other artists that were going to be involved  - when the guys found out who they were going to be backing up, they called me and said, ‘Dude! You need to be here for this, man!’ I had already played with Steven (Tyler) before and they knew that I was a big Doobie Brothers fan and played a lot of those songs throughout my life in the clubs and that kind of stuff. I was so excited that they called me. Steve Hunter couldn’t be there and (Damon’s replacement in Alice’s band) Orianthi was already booked doing her solo tour for her new record. So, yeah, man, I just went down there and had a blast! It was a great, great night and a great 3 ½ - 4 days. It was a lot of fun!”

    Since you can hardly turn the TV on without seeing Steven Tyler on it, I asked if Damon had any plans to work with Tyler or, for that matter, with the Doobie Brothers again.

    “Those things just kinda happen. I’ve got mutual friends in Steven’s camp. I’ve got mutual friends in the Doobie Brother’s camp so you just never know. But it’s cool man – you can see it in their body language that they get really comfortable really fast because they’ve all had to jam some of their classic material with a group of sidemen or some thrown together group for some charity event or some function, whatever. We really brought the ‘A Game’. We blew up those Aerosmith songs and the Doobie Brothers songs. It wasn’t even work, Randy. That was a labor of love right there, man!

    Again reflecting his true humility and gratitude for the fruits of his musical labor, Damon, tells of the mind-blowing line-up for another charity event rock-out a few months ago.

    “I’ve just had an incredible year. I played with Steven back in September in Vegas for that iHeartRadio event. So, on Sweet Emotion the band was myself, my friend, Marti Fredrickson, on drums, Steven on vocals, Jeff Beck on guitar, Sting on bass!  That’s my bucket list band!  I betcha if you could dig up old interviews, you’d say, ‘Who’s the best guitar player?’ I would’ve said, ‘Beck’.  ‘Who’s the best bass player?’  I’ve said ‘Sting’ forever because I was such a fan of his songwriting. And, Tyler, he’s my top three – him, Paul Rodgers and - hell, I don’t know who the third guy is.  Maybe it’s the top two!” Damon said, laughing.

    Whenever I can, I like to poll you Boomerocity readers for questions that you would like to see asked of the people I interview.  I don’t always get to use them but I do try to ask for suggestions from y’all.  When I knew that I was going to chat with Damon again, I asked for question ideas.  While I couldn’t use most of them (“Is Thin Lizzy anorexic?”), a musician friend of mine wanted to know what would Damon call his greatest career moment and which group did it come with.

    “That’s a great question. I’d have to roll the clock back. Probably my biggest moment – my biggest gig ever – was when Brother Cane played Madison Square Garden, opening for Aerosmith. A year and a half before, we were still in a development deal with the label and I was looking for a singer. We had been through three singers already because I wanted to be a guitar player and just a guitar player. The label guy heard me sing in a bar one night, singing a couple of covers – ironically, a Thin Lizzy cover and a Doobie Brothers cover, thank you very much – and he shoved me behind the mic the next day in the studio. A year and a half later, we’re opening for Aerosmith at Madison Square Garden. We’ve got the number one rock track in America with Got No Shame. Wow! Hard to top that, man.

    “There’s a couple of huge shows with Alice Cooper. We played that giant Wacken Festival in Germany in 2010 and it was 75,000 people. That’s a feeling you won’t ever forget. Walking on stage with Thin Lizzy for the first time in San Antonio, Texas, on October the 14th, 2011, that was a big one, too, man!”

    Like some of you, I’ve never had the privilege of attending a Thin Lizzy gig so I asked Doman what people expect from a current Thin Lizzy show.

    “You can expect a massive commitment to the great sound – the classic sound – that the band had.  They’ve had a couple of different guitar players in recent years that were amazing but were also influenced by newer hard rock, metal guitar players – kind of the ‘post-Eddie Van Halen’ school. I’m a huge Eddie fan – huge fan – but we’ve had specific discussions about getting great guitar tone and, as Scott Gorham says, ‘that classic Lizzy sound’. We’re committed to doing that.

    “They can expect that and they can expect to get their minds blown, Randy, at what an amazing front man Ricky Warwick is. Ricky is from Belfast. He grew up a Thin Lizzy fan his entire life and he’s had – I don’t want to say ‘a similar career as mine’ – he used to front a band called ‘The Almighty’ that was actually quite bigger than Brother Cane ever became. They did well in Europe and in Japan but weren’t able to keep it together. He’s done solo records and a lot of people in the industry knows Ricky and are very aware of his talent.

    “Ricky’s a lot like Phil (Lynott). He’s a punk from the streets. He’s not Mr. Crooning Songsmith as Phil was not, either. There’s such a common ground in their spirit and their work ethic and their commitment to live performance. Ricky’s very inclusive of the audience.  He brings everybody kind of inside, spiritually when we do these songs. Phil was always like that. I’m as excited about getting to work with Ricky as I am the other guys in the band and who are the original guys. It’s really special, man.”

    So, what’s on the Thin Lizzy radar as far as projects and activities are concerned?

    “These guys absolutely want to make a new record. Again, it’s such an honor for me, and really flattering, that they would now say, ‘okay, we’re ready to do this’ because there’s been facsimile out there, off and on, for the last ten years. But Scott and Brian never felt like they had the will or the energy to. It took them both a long, long time to get over Phil’s passing. They were thick as thieves, as they say. And, of course, Phil is a one-of-a-kind artist.  He’s like Freddie Mercury or David Bowie.  He’s just an icon, man!  He wrote most of those songs.

    “I know that they have so much confidence in Ricky’s position now as the singer. He’s a super talented songwriter. He’s not only got the songwriting chops, he’s also got the respect and commitment and he takes great pride in the Thin Lizzy name that they would want a guy take into the studio and make a new record. I certainly would be proud to add that to my list of accomplishments - that I co-wrote and performed on a Thin Lizzy record. Come on, man!

    “Look, man, I get any and every naysayer that says, ‘um, you guys go out there and play the songs and it’s cool. I get it. But we gotta draw the line at new music because Phil was one of a kind.’ I don’t disagree with that. Phil was one of a kind. But Brian Downey went to high school with the guy and he played on every single record that that band ever made. When you’ve been a part of something that big and that successful, where’s the rule book that says you can’t carry the legacy on with some other guys.  Queen did it. If Queen can do it, there’s no greater argument that I can come up with.   Everything moves forward. We can’t go back. None of us can go back. We wish we could. We wish that we could’ve saved Phil. We wish that we could’ve done things differently – all of us in our lives and our careers.

    “But Thin Lizzy is alive and well in 2012. It’s a six member band and it’s a band full of guys who are songwriters. It’s never been a band like that, you know? So, if we’re getting the green light from Brian, Scott and from Darren – Darren was the keyboard player on four of those studio records – to have their support and their enthusiasm to move forward, I’m gonna work as hard as I can to come up with great ideas and make a great record.”

    To keep up with all things Thin Lizzy, Damon Johnson and Brother Cane, be sure and visit the links provided below.  Trust me when I say that catching any gig that Damon Johnson is a part of promises to be a very good time for everyone.  So, whether it’s with the great Thin Lizzy, Brother Cane or one of Damon’s solo acoustic gigs, you’ll definitely be in for a real treat.

    Thin Lizzy     Damon Johnson

  • Damon Johnson (2013)

    Posted January, 2013

    If you’ve been reading Boomerocity for very long at all, you already know that Damon Johnson is considered a friend of this website. I first interviewed the guitar slinger (here) when he had just released his acoustic solo project,Release, and was still playing guitar for Alice Cooper. By the end of the year, the word was out that Damon flew the Coop (so to speak) and joined up with the band of his youth, Thin Lizzy. Of course, Boomerocity talked to him about that move (here).

    Naturally, with the news that Thin Lizzy was coming out with a new studio album but under a different band name – Black Star Riders – as well as Damon hitting the road for a series of acoustic shows in various states – I had to track the boy down and get the scoop.

    He was kind enough to call me from his home in Alabama and chat for a bit. I started off by commenting that a lot has happened in the year since we last spoke and that Thin Lizzy has made some tactical career changes. I asked him to fill me in.

    “I joined Thin Lizzy in October of 2011 and immediately all the discussions had turned to talking about making a new album. For any heritage rock act, it’s truly important to have new music out there. It gives you something to promote, something to talk about in the press related things, interviews, etcetera, etcetera. And the unique situation with Thin Lizzy is, obviously, they hadn’t made an album of original material since 1983 when Phil (Lynott) was still alive. The reasons for that are various. For the new Thin Lizzy – the 21st century version of Thin Lizzy – to continue this great momentum that the band has been able to achieve in the last two years, the logical next step was to put out some new music.

    “So, we were all committed to that idea and went ahead and started writing early in 2012 and had even gone to the press and said as much – that that was our plan. As the songwriting continued and as we got closer to going into the studio in October to actually make the album, we started having some second thoughts. Obviously, there are a lot of lifelong fans that were a bit conflicted and understandably so. The straw, for us, that helped us make the decision that we did was when we spoke to Phil’s family – his widow and his daughters – because they’ve been incredibly supportive of this new revitalized Thin Lizzy that’s been out on the road touring. But the subject of new music under the name Thin Lizzy that would get released around the world with no Phil Lynott in it – it made them uncomfortable and it always made the fans uncomfortable and we were never a hundred percent sure ourselves.

    “The good news is that we were totally energized and excited about this new music that was being written and none less so than Brian Downey and Scott Gorham. They were really fired up about the material. So it just made more sense – for all these reasons – to come up with a different name and put the music out under that different name and then let the world know, hey, this was going to be the new Thin Lizzy album and literally and simply out of respect to Phil – and out of respect to the amazing legacy that original band established and achieved – it makes more sense to put it out under a new name which, as you know, is Black Star Riders.”

    Johnson’s comments begged the question: Is Thin Lizzy going away or is the band going to assume two identities?

    “I think the way you just described it is a good way and that is the band is going to assume, essentially, two identities. But the performances as Thin Lizzy are going to be much, much less than what they have been over the last two years. That really has a lot to do with the fact that we love these new songs and we want to get out and build that name, Black Star Riders, and, obviously, we’re going to have to do a lot of touring to accomplish that and to promote the record. 

    “Secondly, my band mate and lifelong hero, Brian Downey, he’s at a point in his life that he doesn’t really want to do 120 shows a year. That’s a lot of work. That’s a lot of travel. That’s a lot of time away from your family. I think we would all agree that Brian has nothing to prove to anybody. The guy’s a legend. So, for him to decide thirty or forty shows a year makes much more sense to him, then that actually fits perfectly with rest of us and our desire to go out and promote the Black Star Riders album and to do dates as that. So, me and Ricky (Warwick), especially, it’s absolutely the best of both worlds. We get to write songs that are completely influenced by Phil Lynott – totally influenced by Phil Lynott – and then get to go out and play those songs live and, as Black Star Riders, we’d be crazy not to add some Thin Lizzy songs to the set.”

    Continuing in that line of thought, Damon added, “I just think that once we put some time into educating the public – and we’ve got a lot of great support from the press, particularly once we made the decision to not record as Thin Lizzy – there was a collective exhale on a lot of people’s part. It just reinforced that we had made the right decision. We’re excited. We’ll see how it all plays out once the record comes out. The plan is, hopefully, for it to come out the middle or end of May. We’ve got all the gears in the machine turning towards getting this record out in May and we’ve already got festival dates booked in June as Black Star Riders.”

    To the question of what the reaction from Thin Lizzy fans has been so far, Johnson said, “Well, the fan reaction has been across-the-board positive simply for the fact that we made a decision. Absolutely positive. I think it was confusing to people in the beginning, which I understand that, as well. But now that it’s been a couple of months since we made the announcement, people are starting to go, ‘Yeah, now I get it! That totally makes sense!’”

    It was at this point that I had to ask an obvious question: What’s behind the name, Black Star Riders?

    “It’s a name Ricky came up with and we all really loved it. When we were trying to come up with a band name, I’d rather eat my own eyeball than to come up with a band name. It’s one of my least favorite things to do. Ricky called me and said, ‘Man, I’m working on some ideas. I’m going to send an e-mail out to everybody by the end of the week.’ I said, ‘Great!’

    “So, he sent an e-mail that had five or six names that he had whittled down from, I’m sure, two or three dozen – knowing that guy. He’s so creative. But for me and Scott, Black Star Riders is a bit of a tip of the hat to our favorite movie, which is Tombstone. We love that movie, man – with Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer and the whole story about Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday. Little kids are into Disney and grown men are into Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday! Ha! Ha! So, Black Star Riders is sort of our version of Wyatt Earp and his immortals. We all feel really good about it and we felt like it fit the music, fits the vibe and it was something we could all get behind. Which is the main thing: As long as the five of us could feel good about it, then it’s really up to us to put out some good music and the music will define the name.”

    About the new album, what can you tell us about it? 

    “I’m so fresh from coming out of the studio that I still have to talk about Kevin Shirley (producer of BSR’s album). I’ve been a fan of a lot of records Kevin has made throughout the last twenty years. He’s somebody on my bucket list that I’ve always said, ‘Wow, it would be great to make a record with that guy’ and I just never thought it would ever happen. So, when his name came up and he expressed such deep affection for Thin Lizzy and their influence – not only on the world but on him specifically. He was a big fan of Phil, Scott and the guys, like the rest of us.

    “He treated this recording in the absolute perfect way and that was to get us all in a room together and have all the drums set up, all the gear set up. We’re all in a circle looking at each other as if we were in a rehearsal room or doing a show and we just tracked it live as a band. There was no, ‘Okay, let’s just get the drums and we’ll come in and do the bass and we’ll put the guitars on.’ I didn’t want to do that from the beginning so I was elated that that was how he wanted to approach it. To me, it’s what’s going to make the record sound more classic and a little more old school. We’re shamelessly old school. We prefer the classics of the seventies over most of the stuff being made today.

    “So Kevin really did an amazing job and I can’t say enough about what a positive experience it was working with him. He brought all of that experience and instinct to the table. The other thing I think he was excited about is that we had done a mammoth amount of work before we had even got there. We made very elaborate demos on our own back in the early fall. So he knew going in that it was a project that we could come in and knock out pretty fast. We literally did twelve songs in twelve days and that was it! That aspect of the record was real important to me and a real pleasure to experience. Then, again, the songs – they sound like classic Thin Lizzy but up to date. Twenty first century Thin Lizzy. There’s no gray area that you go see live now – that is Thin Lizzy – and what the Black Star Riders record sounds like.

    “The one differential being the drums. Jimmy DeGrasso, who I played with in the Alice Cooper band for three years – he’s always been one of my favorite drummers – that guy studied at the feet of Brian Downey and those records. Jimmy always insisted on how would Brian play it? What would Brian be thinking? That’s a lot easier said than done. I’ve played with a lot of drummers through the years and I’ve been covering The Boys Are Back In Townsince I was seventeen or eighteen years old and I’ve got to tell you, man, there’s not a lot of guys who can swing that song. They can’t swing it and make it have the right feel and the way that Brian does. Jimmy is one of those rare drummers that can really do that. To me it’s even rarer to get that from a rock drummer. Most rock and roll drummers, they just want to beat the hell out of everything and play hard. That’s cool and all but that shuffle feel that Brian has, in my humble opinion, that’s where all the sex was in all the Thin Lizzy records. Anybody that’s passionate about that kind of stuff will absolutely agree with that.

    “The thing I’ll tell you, too, is that we made this record for ourselves. We absolutelyhad the fans in mind and we know, from a business standpoint, that if it doesn’t sound like Thin Lizzy then it alienates this pretty significant fan base that we’ve been working really hard the last two years to nurture and to bond with. But I think the unique thing for Scott and Brian, with all due respect, there’s a part of them that didn’t really want to try to sound like Thin Lizzy since Phil passed away. You know what I mean? It’s not like they were going, ‘Well, I want to make a record that sounds like Lizzy with some other people.’ I think that happened by accident. I think the key ingredient was getting two guys in Ricky and me into the band who are career songwriters as well as performers who just happen to have a deep, abiding love for Thin Lizzy. To have Scott there by my side and for me to play a riff that completely was influenced by Johnny the Fox and Bad Reputation and have him say, ‘Hey, man, this is really cool!’ He doesn’t even connect the dots. He doesn’t even know that I’m totally lifting something from Soldier of Fortune. I’m like, ‘If Scott doesn’t catch it, nobody else is gonna catch it!’ I guess you can call that a fun game of cat and mouse.

    “There were definite moments during the recording that I would just have goose bumps and think, ‘Wow! I could’ve never foreseen this day ever in my life!’ This is, essentially, my Thin Lizzy tribute record and I had always wanted to do that anyway. I’ve had a list of songs for over ten years – Thin Lizzy songs - which I always wanted to record, do a tribute record, and do my version of them. This is that times two and Scott Gorham’s my guitar player! It doesn’t get any better than that, brother! Absolutely!”

    Our time was running out but I had to ask Damon about a handful of acoustic sets that he was about to do in Texas and Oklahoma. I wanted to find out what fans could expect from those shows. 

    “The acoustic dates that I’ve done throughout my career have always been incredibly fulfilling and it’s an amazing opportunity to play new songs and pull some old songs out of my catalog that I haven’t played in a long time or never played in an acoustic setting. I’ll maybe pull a couple of covers that I love out of the bag. It never fails when there’s been a passage of a year or two between my visits to a certain city, the set list is generally forty or fifty percent different than it was the time before. This will be no exception. I’m excited to play some new songs that I’ve written and just revisit my catalog. I really get a kick out of that and am grateful that I’ve got some fans out there that are interested in coming and hearing that with an acoustic setting.”

    I still love Release and, as I’ve written before, Pontiacis still my favorite song. Because of my genuine love of that album, I asked Damon if there are any plans for a follow up to it.

    “Yeah, absolutely, and thank you for saying that, by the way. Pontiacis easily one of my two or three favorite songs from the whole album. I’ve been grateful for the response – particularly about that song. I would love to do acoustic records from this day forward. The plan in the back of my head right now is to make my first proper ‘electric’ solo record and I’m sure that there’ll be something acoustic oriented that will pop up on that, as well. Release was a pivotal record for me because it gave me a lot of confidence as a writer and as an arranger. Again, the response to it has been really positive and I’ve been pleased with that. It gives you that motivation to roll up your sleeves and do it again. Plus the fact that I love the acoustic performances so much. It sure makes sense to have another acoustic based record out there that I can get out there and tour behind.”

    And speaking of that tour, you can catch Damon at the following dates and venues:


    02/07/13 – Ft. Worth, TX – Live Oak Music Hall & Lounge
    02/08/13 – Ardmore, OK – Two Frogs Grill
    02/09/13 – Dallas, TX - Poor David’s Pub (Will I see you there?)
    02/10/13 – Denison, TX – Loose Wheels

    Order your tickets now because they’re going out in a blaze of glory!

    Click here to keep up with the latest onThin Lizzy andBlack Star Riders.

  • Damon Johnson Discusses "Echo"

    Posted August, 2016

     

    damonjohnson2016002If you’re a fan of Alice Cooper, Thin Lizzy, or Black Star Riders, then you most definitely know who guitarist, Damon Johnson, is. His finesse on the axe has taken him around the world with these acts who are household names in the music world.

    Damon recently released his latest five song EP entitled, “Echo” (available on Amazon and iTunes) and recently chatted with me about it, beginning with answering my question as to how many solo albums “Echo” makes for him.

    “Yeah, I guess, technically, this would be my third but it is truly my first fully electric album. I put out two acoustic albums. The first one was almost a fluke. It was just for fun. Then, I put out another one back in 2010. So, this is my first, fully realized, full band, lots of guitar kind of album. I’m really, really proud of it. I hope that it’s the first of many.

    “I love this idea of the EP. I really do think it’s a great concept to have four or five brand new songs and get those out. Then, maybe within a year, get another four or five songs out.”

    Johnson shared what the motivation behind the EP was.

    “I would say that, truly, the greatest motivating force had to be my producer and my great friend,johnsonschonguilfordDamon (R) with Journey's Neal Schon (L) & luthier John Guilford - Photo by Randy Patterson Nick Raskulinecz. Nick and I both live in Nashville. I have been a fan of Nick’s for years. He’s produced so many great rock records. So, when we met randomly at an Iron Maiden show a few years back, I was just knocked out to get to talk to this guy! He was so approachable and really cool. Ironically, our wives became really close because Nick and I have small kids. So, while he and I were doing our various things, the girls would actually connect and get the kids together and whatever.

    “So, Nick produced the second Black Star Riders album, The Killer Instinct. It was a great experience for the whole band but it also gave Nick a chance to really get to know me and what I’m all about musically and as a rock writer and as a player. Not long after we finished that album, he called me out of the blue one day and he said, ‘Hey, man, I’ve got some time. My studio is free. If you want to come on in and record some of your own stuff . . . “and he said, “I’m sure you’ve got songs,” which I did and always do.

    “I think, really and truly, it was that phone call. In my head, I had always thought, ‘Wow! It would be great to record some stuff” but, man! It’s a process. There’s a lot of moving parts. You’ve got to get the guys. You’ve got to pay the guys. You’ve got to pay for the studio. There’s so many factors. With Nick’s help, it was incredible.

    “Once we started taking steps in that direction, then I really got the momentum up in my brain to carry it all the way and get it done.”

    Continuing by sharing who was on the EP with him, Damon said:

    “There’s a guy on drums, Jarred Pope, who played with me in a band called Whiskey Falls. I did a country project back in 2007 for a couple of years. I met Jarred when he was still living in Bakersfield, California. I was blown away by his musical instincts as a drummer. I always told him, ‘One day, bro, we’re going to figure out a way to get a studio or get on stage and play some rock and roll.’ Ironically, Jarred is another transplant to Nashville. He moved to town a little before I did so as soon as I arrived, we hooked up and introduced him to some people I knew and vice versa. So, when I got ready to do this solo thing, I didn’t hesitate to reach out to Jarred.

    “On the bass guitar, is a guy a named of Tony Nagy. I met Tony through my good friend, Chuck Garric. We played together in Alice Cooper. Chuck is still in Alice’s band. Chuck is also a new transplant to Nashville. I always call Chuck first because he’s my brother and we’ve done so much together. I love him and his wife. They’re amazing people. But he had so many other commitments so he said, ‘You gotta check out this guy, Tony Nagy.’ That’s how Tony came to me.

    “So, it was just the three of us in the studio. I play all the guitar. All the keyboards. Taurus pedals. Some percussion. I just had a great time! I really couldn’t be happier with how it turned out.”

    Johnson then shared a rundown about the stories behind the five songs.

    damonalicegenland1Damon & His Former Boss, Alice Cooper - Photo Courtesy of Damon Johnson“There’s two songs: ‘Dead’ and another song called ‘The Waiting Kills Me’. I wrote them both with my friend, Kelly Gray. I don’t know if you remember, Randy, that Kelly produced the Wishpool album for Brother Cane. Kelly and I also had a band together for a little while called Slave To The System. These were two songs that we thought might make a sophomore STTS release. It just wasn’t possible to get everybody’s schedules to line up. I knew that they were both great songs so I’ve been kinda sitting on those for a while.

    “Another song is “Nobody Using,” which I really love. It’s got so much tempo and energy. It just kicks ass, man. It reminds a lot of my fans of “Got No Shame” – kinda reminiscent of that in its intensity.

    “Yet another song is “Just Move On” that I co-wrote with my buddy, Marty Frederickson, who I’ve worked with for two decades now. He and I wrote all those Brother Cane songs together. All the radio singles – we wrote those together.

    “Then, Marty actually brought me what I feel is a gift in the form of a song called ‘Scars.’ ‘Scars’ is probably my favorite song of the five. Just an incredible lyric and an amazing vocal melody and it just gave me a bed to come up with some really – I guess – fulfilling guitar parts. I tried to keep them very lyrical. It’s a great lyric. It really spoke to me and I’ve had a lot of people reaching out and talking about how much they love that song.

    “All five songs are different. Different in tempo and dynamic. Lyrical content. I kinda think that’s been my story my whole career. I’ve never really been part of one style or one specific sound. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m very pleased to get these five songs out to represent where I’m at, right now, and where I’m headed.”

    When I asked Damon which song he would use as a calling card for “Echo”, he said:

    “I guess that I would have to base that some feedback I’ve gotten from the fans, my friends, and my inner circle. I think a lot of people are gravitating towards ‘Dead’. ‘Dead,’ in some ways, it could’ve been a really cool Alice Cooper song. Lyrically. Guitar-wise. Kinda trashy. It’s got a real sexy tempo to it. I just think it’s exactly what you said. It just might be the statement song for the album. I have to mention ‘Nobody Using,’ as well. I’ve gotten a lot of great support in Europe. I’ve gotten some radio airplay. A lot of my Black Star Riders/Thin Lizzy supporters over there have gravitated towards that song. I have to give some credit to my great friend, Johnny Blade. He and I wrote that together. He’s another monster talent. I love to get into a room with another creative mind like that. Nine out of ten times, we not only come up with something, but we come up with something pretty fast. He and I are actually working on some new songs right now so you’ll hear more from that collaboration.”

    As for tour plans in support of the EP, Johnson shared:

    “There are absolutely plans to get out and tour. The way my schedule looks for the next six months, we’re going to do a handful of Thin Lizzy festival dates. In August, Black Star Riders are back in the studio with Nick Raskulinecz right here in Nashville to record the follow-up, which will be our third album. So, as soon as we get that wrapped up, that is totally my plan - is to be out, doing some dates to promote ‘Echo.’ That will probably be the latter part of September and into October and November. I’ve already done a handful of shows with my guys. The set list is just ridiculous. Plenty of Brother Cain songs. I play a couple of Black Star Rider songs. We certainly do a Thin Lizzy song. We pretty much play everything off of the new EP and we’ve actually worked up a medley of BAD. ASS Alice Cooper songs. It lasts about eleven minutes. It’s a barn burner, Randy! I hope you get to hear it!

    The music world has been a-buzz with news that Damon’s former boss, Alice Cooper, was reuniting his original band members for a new album. I asked Johnson what his thoughts were about that news.

    “I’ll say this: I’m a little out of the loop as to what or how those specific plans are coming together. I truly am. I know that Alice has been busy with his Hollywood Vampires thing and he has dates with his current band kind of booked throughout the remainder of the year. If there are, indeed, dates with the original band – there’s no question that that would be and is very, very cool! It’d have to be fun for Dennis and the guys to go out and do some proper dates with Coop like that. And I think it would be great of Alice to give those guys that opportunity.

    “That original band was incredibly special. The further distance we get away from that, I think it becomes even more obvious how special they were. Alice has had dozens and dozens of different lineups as a solo artist through the years. But nothing can touch that original band. There was a special chemistry and it was a special sound that had a special swagger that’s not been duplicated since then. Not necessarily that he wants to but those guys played very, very unique together. You can bet – if they’re out there on some dates, I’m going to see one . . .or ten! Ha! Ha! If humanly possible, I’ll definitely be in the house to see that!”

    Regarding what’s on his career radar for the foreseeable future, the renown axe man said:damonjohnsonthinlizzyPhoto Courtesy of Damon Johnson

    “The plans for me, I’m hoping, are a mirror image of everything that has happened over the last twelve months. It’s really been the most fulfilling year I think I’ve ever had in my career. It’s an honor to be a part of Black Star Riders. It’s a real band. It’s truly growing its fan base at a time where it couldn’t be more difficult for guys our age just playing straight ahead rock to go out and build a following. We feel that momentum. We’re energized by it so we’re going to absolutely be balls to the wall with continuing Black Star Riders.

    “Thin Lizzy, it’s Scott’s band. Scott is my brother; my bandmate in Black Star Riders. Whenever he wants to do a handful of those, I’m certainly available. Again, what an incredible experience for me and Ricky to be a part of that Thin Lizzy band with Scott, as well. The rest of the time, I’ll be doing my stuff. I really would love to put out another acoustic album. My wife laughs. She goes, ‘You’re kind of like a southern version of Neil Young. You can put out these introspective, folk singer/songwriter things and then fire up the amps with the band and be rockin’ in the free world.’ Ha! Ha! So, I told her that was an incredible compliment so I’m certainly flattered by it.”

    Whether you catch Damon with Thin Lizzy, Black Star Riders, a random pick up jam band, or one of his amazing acoustic gigs, you will be in for an incredible musical treat. If you get the chance to meet him, you’ll have met one of the nicest, warmest, most genuine people God’s green earth.

    Keep up with Damon at any of these links:

    Website:     Damon Johnson     Thin Lizzy     Black Star Riders

     

    Twitter:      Damon Johnson      Thin Lizzy     Black Star Riders         

    Facebook:   Damon Johnson     Thin Lizzy     Black Star Riders

  • Dennis Dunaway Discusses "Snakes! Guillotines! Electric Chairs!"

    Posted June, 2015

         

    I grew up in Phoenix after being transplanted there in the sixties from Alabama while I was in fourth grade. As my interest in music began to develop beyond Elvis, I was soon exposed – and I do mean, “exposed” – to Phoenix homeboys, Alice Cooper (at that time, the name of the entire band and not just the front man). 

    Me being the perpetual late bloomer boomer that I am, the exposure didn’t happen until six albums in when one of my friends had the “Billion Dollar Babies” cassette playing on his portable player. Quite frankly, I didn’t “Love It To Death” (fans, please pardon the pun) because it scared me to death.

    I mean, c’mon!  If your buddy had you listening to the uber creepy “I Love The Dead” or “Sick Things” during the night, wouldn’t you tinkle your Super Man underwear, too?  Maybe not but that’s beside the point. The point is this: The Alice Cooper Group was like nothing I had ever seen or heard before and it scared the whiz right out of me and had me linking for sick things under my bed.

    Of course, I became an immediate fan.

    That original band consisted of lead singer (and Cortez High School alum), Vince Furnier, the late Glenn Buxton on lead guitar, Michael Bruce on rhythm guitar, Neal Smith on drums and Dennis Dunaway on bass. Together, they invented what quickly became known as “shock rock”. Guillotines, swords, electric chairs, toy babies, and even the mother of all boa constrictors were used as stage props and to bring over the top drama and theatrics to the stage.

    As the band’s popularity and record sales grew, so did their notoriety and associated rumors and urban legends that could grow out of control in those days. Sordid tales of devil worshipping, sadistic sex, drugs, chicken mangling and various stories involving stomach pumping all became rampant – especially in the band’s hometown of Phoenix. 

    Speaking of Phoenix, the town seemed to have its own cluster of favorite legends to tell about the band and it seemed (and still does seem) that everyone has a “personal” story about running into one of the band, getting in a fight with one or all of them, dating the one of the band, a sister dating one of the band, went to school with the band (even if the band had already graduated from Cortez while said pontificator was still in diapers), and other such musings.

    Over the years, the original band was replaced by a series of other musicians and Vincent officially changed his name to that of his stage character, Alice Cooper.  Glenn Buxton passed away in 1997. Bruce, Smith and Dunaway stayed involved in music over the years.  In 2011, the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the remaining members rejoined Alice on three songs (“A Runaway Train”, “I’ll Bite Your Face Off” and “When Hell Comes Home”) on his “Welcome 2 My Nightmare” album.

    To chronicle a small part of the legendary band’s history, Dennis Dunaway has just come out with a book entitled, “Snakes! Guillotines! Electric Chairs! My Adventures In The Alice Cooper Group.” I had the distinct honor of chatting with Dennis about his book and his views on the music industry as a whole. He was generous with his time in chatting with me and very gracious in his answers. I must admit that I had so many things I wanted to talk to him about that it was hard to whittle my long list of questions down to a smaller, more relevant grouping. 

    Dunaway answered my question about what the initial buzz over the book had been like by saying:

    “This has been an overwhelmingly busy year. Everybody in the world is messaging me. In the old days, they would have had to put some coins in the phone. Now, with social media, even if it’s

         

    just ‘congratulations on the book’ or something, it’s just way more than I can read. It’s a tsunami of mail. I was surprised at how many people expect to have a running conversation with me while they read the book. I don’t have time to even read them all! I talked to another author who does books. He’s from Phoenix. I said, ‘Wow, my mail is getting overwhelming. I don’t think I’ll be able to keep up with it’. He said, ‘I’m looking at 4,100 unread e-mails right now’. I guess that’s par for the course. 

    “It’s very, very exciting. There’s been so much work going into it. There’s some of these things coming together now that I’ve been working on for years. I thought the book would be finished before it was. In fact, I thought it would be done a decade before it was finished. I held out, because I wanted to get a real publisher with a real shot at a being a published author. I held out, and I finally got it. It was starting to bleak there. I had to turn down a few deals where the people weren’t saying the right thing. The most common thing that turned me off was people saying that it had to be more about Alice, not the other guys. Well, go buy those books. They’re out there. 

    “I got kinda desperate, so I started just posting on Facebook, ‘I’m looking for a publishing deal’. I got a fan, Dereck Walton, who said, ‘I’m a big fan!’ And he is. I’ve gotten to know him, and he knows more about me than I do. He said, ‘My girlfriend, Sharyn Rosenblum, is a publicist for Harper Collins in New York City. How about if you show her your manuscript and see if she has any suggestions?’ Oh man, she loved the concept. She found my agent, and we landed a deal. I’m surrounded by the most professional people. It really reminds me of the good ‘ol days in the record industry when people were actually buying the product- all the experts that surrounded us back in those days. Now, it’s a similar deal, and I get to stick my toe in the exciting literary world of New York City. I walk around saying, ‘I’m not worthy!’ with all these people who have put out books about Abraham Lincoln and stuff like that. I’m like, ‘Well, we dropped panties on Hollywood Bowl’. 

    “I have this expert team of publicists. They really know what they’re doing, but they also keep an open mind as to what I like. This I even tested everybody on. We had the first meeting with me and my co-writer, Chris Hodenfield, who worked for Rolling Stone for a dozen years. In fact, he wrote the cover story of the Alice Cooper group in 1972 for Rolling Stone magazine- the Annie Leibovitz picture where Alice has a snake wrapped around his contorted face. We’ve known him since those days. We brought him in, because I knew I wouldn’t be spending my time explaining things to him as much. He was the same era and all. That was a perfect call. 

    “Anyway, I have my literary agent, Jim Fitzgerald, who is this guy who has seen it all. His voice, if you don’t look at him, sounds like Glen Buxton. He’s a salty guy, and he’s definitely worked on a lot of books with a lot of people. John Lydon, Dennis Hopper, mostly edgy people. He’s there with my publisher, Rob Kirkpatrick. I thought, ‘I know exactly what I want in my book’. I would say things to each of them during this lunch that I knew was wrong for the book. All of them passed the test. They all said, ‘Well, wait a minute. I think it should be….’ And I’m thinking, ‘Alright, you passed’. I walked out of there thinking, ‘Man, do I have the right people!’ They’re all on the right wavelength. We had a lot of fun doing it, which is appropriate. That’s really what I wanted to portray in the book. People always tend to focus on the break-up. They tend to look at the traffic accident rather than how cool the car is that somebody built. The first draft of the book had a lot of my deep resentment. When I started reading back, I said, ‘you know what? This isn’t what it was about.’ It was about a bunch of teenagers that got this goofy idea to incorporate art into music, and we talked other guys who were very unlikely personalities to get on board with us. We faced a lot of threats and danger, but we stuck with it because we all believed in it that much. We had fun doing it. That’s what the book is about, really.” 

    As I said at the beginning of this piece, there were tons of rumors and misconceptions about the band so I asked Dennis what was the biggest misconception about the band that he had heard.

    “There have been several. That we murdered chickens was probably the most notorious. A chicken did get hurt at the Toronto festival, but we had no intention of hurting it. It was our pet. We were kids taking our favorite horror films, and adding them to a rock show for the fun of it. Even though we did deliver it with a sinister attitude, it was all in fun. That’s the biggest misconception overall. People took us more seriously than we intended.”

    Writing a book is never easy and, when one writes about their own experiences, surprises often arise during the process. Dunaway shared what those surprises were.

    “Two come to mind. I thought that, with the Internet, I could reach out to all these people throughout our career to get these stories from them. That didn’t work out at all. It kinda backfired, actually. I’d get twelve pages about a spaghetti dinner that somebody made for the band. I said, ‘Uh-oh. I’m going to have to rely entirely on my memory here’. I should have known that in the first place. I thought I could get these enhancements, but it didn’t quite work out. Even with Neal, I couldn’t get anything out of him. I did toward the end, but not early on. 

    “The other thing that I didn’t anticipate was, since I knew the story so well and how certain things happened, I had revelations. You know that Neal did this or that. You start writing them down, and you start realizing, ‘Wait a minute. He did that a lot more than I realized’. Like going onstage stoned in the early days, and he was on top of the gigantic PA speakers again. You put two and two together. At one point, Michael, Neal, and I buckled down and went on stage in a business frame of mind. We saved the partying until after the show. When I look back to the early days, it’s amazing we were able to survive. Neal jumping off the top of the PA that’s twelve feet tall, but it was the audience we got all the injuries from. Neal had a dart in his back one night. All of the M-80s and full beer cans- people would buy the beer cans just to throw at the stage. When it’d hit the stage, it burst open. We’d walk out, and there would be so many, you didn’t know which way to duck. Like the Blues Brothers in the chicken wire cage… we actually did a gig with the chicken wire in the early days. Just like the movie.” 

         

    I mentioned that there were all sorts of conflicting stories as to which high schools the band members attended. While not an interesting bit of trivia to all you readers, it is interesting to me and my former classmates and neighbors so I asked him to set the story straight.  

    “In ’68, the band was still coming through. At that point, we lived in L.A. and were on the road a lot. We still came back through Phoenix fairly often. My parents were there.

    “Michael Bruce, I think, went to North High School. Neal went to Camelback. The rest of us were Cortez all the way. Sunnyslope was our rival. Alice and I did cross country, and they were kinda tough to beat. We were undefeated, so we managed to do it. We always had to rise to the occasion with them. Alice and I did art class, cross country, and journalism together.”

    Dennis went on to share where he lives these days and why.

    “I’m like an hour from New York City. Originally, the band moved to Greenwich, Connecticut, to be closer to our manager’s offices in New York City. In my opinion, it was kinda silly. We moved, because when we lived in Michigan, we thought we were chalking up an awful lot of long distance phone calls. Greenwich, Connecticut, is a much more affluent and expensive area. Also, it didn’t change the amount of phone calls, because we were never at home anyway.”

    He then shared some funny stories from those days.

    “The roadie had pockets full of change for the pay phone at the airports and everything. Back then, you could page people at the airport. Glen Buxton always had this running gag where you would all of the sudden hear over the PA system in the airport: ‘Mr. Beach. Mr. Sonny Beach, please report to the service counter.’

    “Glen was a natural. Alice was a natural. We were all humorous. I was probably the bottom rung of the ladder. I think Glen was the head funny guy. Alice was second. Neal is very funny. His type of humor is more like doing these goofy characters. He and Glen were both born in Akron, so they have that Ohio sense of humor. A lot of great American comics came out of Ohio: Jonathan Winters, Bob Hope, Red Skelton. Since I married into Neal’s family- I married his sister- I’ve been to Ohio a lot. I’ve witnessed that humor directly. Also, our day job was to think of clever things- ideas for songs, lyrics, clever album covers. It was always just tossing something into the pool and letting the piranhas go at it.”

    I didn’t want him to give away big nuggets that might hurt book sales, but I did ask what Dunaway thought was the biggest revelation he provides in the book.

    “You have to divide it. The band doesn’t feel this way, but there seems to be a line in the sand as far as Alice Cooper group fans and the Alice solo fans. I think there would be two different things they would take away. 

    “The original fans will get some insights to the new versions of the stories they’ve heard. They’ll get more details about the writing of the songs, the recording and chemistry of the group. The younger fans will find out that it was actually a group. A lot of them don’t even know that. I’ve opened for Alice about ten times in recent years. At some of those gigs, people had no clue who I was. Did you see the hanging? Did you see the guillotine? Did you see the snake? That’s me. The snake was actually Neal. The guillotine actually goes all the way back to our very first gig at Cortez High School. The very first time we played a whole show was Halloween in 1964, and we had a guillotine. 

    “The other thing that may surprise people is that we’re not all mad at each other. We never have been. That’s why the line in the sand with fans is ridiculous, because the band is still all friends. That might be a refreshing feel to the book.”

    Dennis squares up the “dead chicken” story in the book. One that wasn’t in the book but was the source of an urban legend amongst those in my church circle involves a line in “No More Mister Nice Guy.” The story in that line involves Alice getting punched in the nose by the pastor of a church he visits. All of the lyric sheets I’ve read show the line as either, “ . . . the Reverend Smith, he recognized me . . .” or, “ . . . the Reverend Smithy recognized me . . .”  

    Well, A pastor of one of the churches in the denomination I grew up in was the late Herschel Diffie (you know where I’m going with this). It became the subject of many sermons that the band was saying his name towards the end of the song. Those who attended the good reverend’s funeral tell me that the story was even shared there. I’ve always said that the story was total bull spew. I asked Dunaway to settle the dispute once and for all.

    “That one’s totally fictitious. Isn’t that funny? We were brought up in the school of The Beatles. They had all of that ‘Paul is dead’ and that kind of stuff. Starting rumors was something that we did all the back at Cortez High School. Alice loved to do that. He always wanted to come up with a catchphrase that he would start, and it would spread across the country. ‘Love it to death’ was one of them. It didn’t gain that much traction. People did start saying it after it became the title of the album. If someone said, ‘Did you see that new James Bond movie?’ he wanted people to say, ‘Love it to death!’ Rumors that add to the legend were part of it, so that fits in that respect. 

    “Alice’s personality is kinda like what you see in live interviews. Alice never swore. In fact, he turned down an offer to be in a Quentin Tarantino movie, From Dusk Till Dawn. I think Cheech Marin ended up doing the part. Alice turned it down, because it had swearing. He wouldn’t swear. In the book, I talk about Alice flipping the bird. That’s the only time I ever saw him do that. Ever. There’s definitely some hypocrisy in that. You’re very religious and read the Bible before going to sleep, but it’s okay to simulate a murder on stage. For some reason, people take it more threateningly, because it’s a rock band out there doing that. They’re thinking, ‘They are working the minds of our children’. Yet the kids can come home and watch an old horror film that’s a lot worse than that. Or wrestling, boxing, whatever- that’s ok. The kids can sit there and watch a boxing match with you, but they can’t go to an Alice Cooper concert.”

    Back in 1979 or 1980, I met and chatted a while with Reggie Vincent. He played out the church I was attending at the time and I emceed his appearance. He later

         

    Dennis Dunaway, Albert Bouchard, Alice Cooper and Joe Bouchard

     

    became a minister for a few years. I asked Dennis how significant was Reggie’s contributions to the band.

    “Again, they whittled the book down. There’s a lot of elaboration on many characters. Some of them didn’t even make it in the book. Rockin’ Reggie was a good friend. There are certain people who showed up, and if Glen’s sarcasm didn’t drive them out the door, they were okay. Especially if you fired back- that’s just how it was. It was very funny, but anybody who walked out of the room knew they were being verbally cut to ribbons the whole time they were gone. We were all in on it. If a newcomer came into the situation and couldn’t deal with it, good- we weeded that person out. It’s like separating the mice from the men. 

    “Rockin’ was always in a good mood. He loved music, and he was always around. We would jam with him, and we’d ask him to join in singing background on songs in the studio. He stayed up all night with Glen Buxton, and they came down with the idea for the song ‘Billion Dollar Baby’. We knew that it would be the title of the album at that point, and we said, ‘Hey, let’s write a song to be the title song’. Next morning, he and Glen had stayed up all night, and they came down. They had this beautiful ballad. Rockin’ Reggie is an amazing songwriter. A lot of his songs are very Roy Orbison- the writing and even his voice. Lots of great hooks and stuff. He showed up with this beautiful ballad, and we kicked it around all afternoon. I decided, ‘We gotta light a fire under this song’. We beat the song up, spit it back out, and it was a much different song.”

    Dunaway and the remaining members of the band worked with Alice on “Welcome 2 My Nightmare.” I thought it was poignant since its predecessor, “Welcome To My Nightmare” was the album that benchmarked Alice and the band parting ways. I asked the bassist about his thoughts on “2” and if he and the guys are going to be working on more music together.

    “It was just great to all get back together. I was concerned that we wouldn’t still have our same sound. I was afraid that the chemistry and dynamics had changed. In the old days, the band was all equally involved in every bit of the music. Bob Ezrin, as well- if the five band members or Bob threw out an idea, we tried it. I thought, ‘Maybe that’ll be different’. As soon as we got in the studio, it was just like the old days. We had a blast. We knocked out three songs in two days. I think with some of the other songs on the album, we had a lot more time to do it. We were so excited that we could have recorded a whole album in a week, I think. It was fun. It was great to work with Bob again. He always gets these great sounds. Michael, Neal, and I were firing the same kind of sarcastic remarks at each other. When you’re friends to the point that you’re pretty much family, you don’t have to fill in time. You’re together, and it’s the same. We did sound like ourselves even without Glen Buxton. That is still a noticeable difference, but we had fun. There was no weirdness at all. We’re all friends, like I said. The friendship is why it started, and the friendship is why we never sued over the name. Some people would say, ‘Well, that was stupid’, but my conscience is good.”

    After reading his book, I came away thinking that Dennis Dunaway showed tremendous class in how he matter-of-factly presented the parting of the ways with Alice. There’s been a lot more venom between people for a heck of a lot less. When I asked what he attributed the reason for his attitude in handling this the way did – and does –he said:

         

    “I think it’s as simple as we started as friends, and we didn’t want to end it otherwise. We’re all still friends. Being friends was the number one thing through it. We had a driven vision that we were all obsessed with. Losing that was a big blow in my life. I spent a few years rocking in a rocking chair, pouting, and being bitter. Then, I’m like, ‘you know, why am I so bitter about music? That’s what I love. Forget this. Forget the music industry. I’m going to just start writing songs’. I wrote a couple hundred songs. I was a reclusive. I didn’t go out and play much. If somebody asked me, I’d go out. If I went to a club in New York City, I’d hide in the back corner and not want to get up and play. 

    “Then my health- I have Crohn’s disease. That was a long, hard road down. I ended up in critical condition in the hospital. The doctor’s didn’t think they’d be able to build up my health enough to survive the surgery. I got all of this snail mail from all over the world from fans. I’m like, ‘Wow! They do remember me’. At that point, with all of the press and stuff, everyone had reassigned credit for everything. It looked like we were just thoroughly swept under the carpet. Here comes all this mail from people all over the world, and I’m like, ‘Wow, people really are out there’. My daughters had been telling me, ‘Dad, stop correcting all of the interviews you read. Just write a book’. At that point, I decided I am going to write a book. If I make it through this, I’m going to get back out there and bury the hatchet. And that’s what I did. It was a very tough part of our lives. Cindy and I stuck together. Thank God, I had her and my daughters. Even through the worst of times, I was still friends with Alice.

    “When I first started writing the book, it was before Super Duper Alice Cooper came out that revealed Alice finally talking about his addictions. I’m thinking that all I’m doing is telling the truth, but everybody is going to look at this as a challenge. There was a lot of that, because almost any story that anybody has heard, I have a bit of a different story. Some of them, I’m alone in my memory. Everybody in the band seems to remember that when we went over to Frank Zappa’s house to audition, he was asleep. That’s true. Everybody agrees to that. We showed up at nine o’clock in the morning. I think Alice moved it earlier, but he always exaggerates. Everybody remembers that we went down in his basement, set up our equipment, and started playing. Then he came down. That’s not true. We set up right outside his bedroom door in the hallway. We had the amps plugged in, and we were cranked. We were playing so loud that the picture on the wall went crooked. His bedroom door opened, and his hand came out motioning for us to stop. We stopped, then he stuck his head out and said, ‘Let me have some coffee, and I’ll listen’. Everybody else remembers that we were downstairs, but we came the next day and went downstairs for a meeting. Downstairs was full of The Mothers’ equipment. There was no room for us to set up our equipment. Little things like that- do they make a difference? Like Robby Krieger told me, ‘It doesn’t make any difference’. I’m like, ‘I know, but it’s just annoying’. I think being outside the bedroom door is a heck of a lot bolder. If somebody did that in my house, I’d probably shoot them. Frank was a real sport about it. His wife, Gail, was in the bedroom. He had gotten home late from the road. I think that’s how we got the deal. Straight Records had already stretched the budget. They weren’t looking for any more groups. We came in late after they had found all the groups. I think that he just liked how crazy we were to go to that much trouble. The GTOs all lived downstairs in the log cabin in Laurel Canyon. Miss Christine was baby-sitting Moon Unit. When we knocked on the door, she answered and freaked out. The look on her face… like, ‘What are you doing here?!’ We’re like, ‘We’re here to audition’, and she said, ‘No! I didn’t even ask him yet’. She runs down the hall to keep us from going down the hall, so we knew that’s where to go. She was freaking out, because it was her fault that we got into the house. We set up, and Zappa asked for coffee. She ran and got coffee for him. When he liked us, she was so relieved. So were we, really.”

    I asked one of two hypothetical questions: Can a group of guys get together in this day and age and be trailblazers like you guys were or has everything been said and done and the only thing left is just more of the same?  I mean, c’mon, Marilyn Manson had shock value but he really didn’t do anything all that compelling like you guys did, no?

    “I think so. Blue Coupe just did a show in New York City for the Joey Ramone Birthday Bash, which is a benefit for lymphoma. It had, of course, all these great punk, iconic New York City

           

    musicians from that great era. Glen Matlock from the Sex Pistols was there. David Beal…. But there was a fairly young band there called the Barb Wire Dolls. I wouldn’t say necessarily that they’re doing something that hasn’t been done before. I will say that band has that look in their eyes that we had back then. You can tell. They are driven toward their artistic goal. That’s what it takes. When people ask me, ‘What does it take to make it?’, I’m like, ‘First of all, if you have what it takes, it doesn’t matter what I say or what anybody says’. They told Elvis to go back to driving trucks. Or I could say, ‘you’re great. You’re going to make it’, but it’s still only going to happen if you have that drive that is relentless enough to overcome everything. 

    “The bad part is people aren’t buying the product, so how do you support the art? The Alice Cooper group lived on tuna noodle casserole for way too many years, and that was even luxury in those days. We could all afford to get a house. It wouldn’t necessarily be a very nice one, but we could afford to get a house and keep the dream going. Now, everything is so expensive. It’s really hard for a band to keep banging their head against the wall. Especially when they make a record, and try to let people know it exists, then people just take it for free. That’s the bad part. 

    “The good part is it basically forces you to do it for the right reasons to begin with which is because you love doing it.”

    I also wanted to know what have been the biggest changes he’s seen in the music business.

    “When I was younger, especially in Phoenix, the television went off the air at ten o’clock at night. You were lucky to see two decent TV shows in a week. Music was the all-powerful, most

         

    important thing in a teenager’s life. Movies were second. Television was third. Books weren’t in my picture back then. A book meant homework. Now, people have so many other things to do- games, even your phone. It’s like a cartoon I just saw. An angel’s in heaven, and St. Peter’s saying, ‘you actually did have a good life. You were just looking at your phone and missed it’. In entertainment and what teenagers find important, music isn’t number one anymore. Back in our day, when you got that vinyl album with the gatefold cover, you open that gatefold cover up and set it on your table. You played the record over and over, and it was your shrine. You worshipped it. Now kids go, ‘Oh, listen to this song!’, and they won’t even play the whole song. They don’t have time to listen to a whole song, let alone a whole album. What’s broken is something I don’t know needs to be fixed. People have just moved on to other forms of entertainment. Their time is consumed by gadgets.  

    “The other thing is vinyl just sounds better. There’s this warm tone to it. Compare that ear pods. Even with the best ones, the music sounds more sterile. I’m not sure people have the best quality of music to draw them back. My back room is walls full of vinyl records. All kinds of records- I’ve got rare Elvis Presley stuff. My kids ask, ‘Dad, why do you have all that stuff? We have more music than that on our phone’. I’m like, ‘Yeah, but let’s compare the quality’. It is kind of a pain to have to walk into the other room and flip the record after five songs. 

    “In another respect, the digital capabilities in the studio allow you to fix any note. You can take somebody who can’t sing on pitch sound like they can. The Beatles didn’t have that. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard those isolated Beatles vocal tracks, but when you listen to that, you go, ‘They didn’t need a pitch correction machine’. The problem is you have unlimited tracks. Back then, The Beatles had four tracks! If you put something on that track, you had to do it with feel. When I recorded bass parts and had a bad note in the middle of the bass track, I would have to redo the entire bass track if we decided everything else was fine. I did that a lot of times. Bob Ezrin would drop in a note every once in a while, but when Jack Richardson was there, he’d say, ‘be a man. Record the whole things again. You’re going to be playing this song a million times anyway’. On ‘School’s Out’, I’d just redone the bass track, and a roadie walked in with Rotosound strings. I’d never had a set, so we put them on of my bass guitars. I thought, ‘Wow, these have a nice growl to them. You know what? Let’s rerecord the bass track!’ That’s what I did on the spot. 

    “You have to put a lot of thought into the songs. We did pre-production, and that’s the difference between ‘Love It To Death’ and our previous albums. With our previous albums, we didn’t have the proper focus on getting the song ready for the studio. We hadn’t been in the studio. We hadn’t become masters of that part of the art. Playing live is one thing. Writing is one thing. In the studio is one thing. All three of those take three different kinds of expertise. We were surrounded by experts and soaked it all in. But you had to play the song with the feel, and if the bass drum was a little bit early on that downbeat, now you can just go in and move it. If you move that one, then you go, ‘That next one is a little off’. Then another one- next thing you know, you’ve perfected the life out of the song. It becomes sterile. It loses all of its feel. Same with photography- people look at a photograph, and it could be the most bizarre photograph in the world that’s actually taken with no enhancements at all. People will just go, ‘Ok, that’s cool’, and move on. They don’t appreciate that anymore, because the ability to make gigantic armies of futuristic soldiers get blown away in a movie has desensitized us to the point where we don’t appreciate real art like we used to. In the old days, they had their own ways to doctor up a photograph in the darkroom, so I’m not saying that. Same with recording in the old days, but it gets to the point where you can just do anything. You can say, ‘I want a picture of me on mars’. No problem! The next day you’ve got it. 

    “It’s all changing, but it still boils down to making a record that is so good that people want to listen to it over and over. I think it was Jerry Wexler who once said as a record executive or A&R guy, it’s really easy to find somebody who is really good at something that’s already been done. He said it’s really hard to find somebody who is doing something new that’s going to be the next popular thing. That’s always been the case. As soon as somebody does something new, they are usually the ones who have to break through all of the resistance. The Alice Cooper group certainly did. They hated us! Theatrics, oh God- Bill Graham hated us. ‘You can’t do theatrics’, and we’re like, ‘well, we do’. Once we were finally able to make that acceptable, all of sudden everybody jumps on the bandwagon.”

    A couple of years ago, Dennis approached Fender Guitar about producing a signature series bass that replicates his “Billion Dollar Bass.”  In response to my query about how sales have been and what future plans are for the series, the legendary bassist said:

    “I think it’s been good on that. I get the royalty checks, so I’m not sure what the numbers break down to. I’ve kinda not been able to keep up with anything but this book for the last few years. It’s been all consuming. I play one of my replicas that the Fender Custom Shop made- Billion Dollar jazz bass. That’s what I play onstage and take on airplanes, because it’s more replaceable than the original. It’s so much like the original. I can tell the difference, but Joe Bouchard who played bass with Blue Oyster Cult has been around my original jazz bass since ’72. So far, he’s guessed about five times whether it’s the replica or the real one, and he’s never gotten it right. You set them side-by-side, and the closer you look, the more you realize this is insane how detailed this is- down to every scratch, rust. It’s unbelievable. Out on the road in the old days, the strap got a lot of wear and tear with the way I jump around on stage. The screw would pull out of the body of the bass. I’d be like, ‘Hey, we’ve got a gig. Grab a screw’. It wouldn’t be an original Fender screw. They even went out and found two different screws to match those. It growls really nice. I love it. Fender has been so good to me. 

    “I talked to Richard McDonald, the vice president. To get this to happen, I thought, ‘I’d really like to have a Billion Dollar replica bass’, but I thought there’s no way. The e-mail will end up deleted right away unless I make it crazy. That’s part of the Alice Cooper way of doing things. We did the press release, and instead of five guys came from Phoenix, we were reincarnated. Alice’s sister was a witch that was burned at the stake and all that. We thought, hey, somebody will at least get an entertaining read out of it and hopefully remember us instead of filing it in the wastebasket. 

    “So I had that mentality when I wrote this e-mail. I said, ‘I want the Billion Dollar Bass to play at our induction to the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. I want it to have real diamonds, and I want it to be insured for a billion dollars’. I got a response right away: ‘Great idea!’ Next thing I know, they flew me out to Scottsdale, Arizona, to the headquarters, and they flew all of the top Custom Shop guys in from California. Now, I’m by myself in the main office with a conference table with all these guys showing up, and I’m like, ‘I should have prepared something’. Everybody is sitting at the conference table and waiting for me to sit down. I took the bass out of the case. I just laid it in the middle of this big conference table, sat down, folded my arms, and stared at it. I didn’t say anything; I just kept looking at the bass. Then I stood up dramatically, and I said, ‘Gentlemen, the Billion Dollar Bass’. 

    “They loved it. I told them I wanted to change it so it’d be easier to make and less expensive. They said, ‘We’ve got to make it exactly like this’ which is what they do really. So that’s how that came about, and they’ve been so nice to me ever since. I told the vice president, ‘I spent all those struggling years, and Fender wouldn’t give me the time of day’. He said, ‘Dennis, that’s all changed. Anything you want, no matter what time of day, just call me’. It’s been like that. I say, ‘Hey, I’ve got a rehearsal’, and these Fender amps show up. I feel very privileged. 

    He added:

    “I have these new bass picks that have the title of my new book on them, ‘Snakes! Guillotines! Electric Chairs!’. You flip it over, and it’s got a Fender logo, of course. We’re doing these swag bags for my book signings. You’ll get a big pink bag with the title of the book on it. It’ll have a barf bag, a pencil, a pick, and panties. 

    “Clayton picks also sponsors my Blue Coupe picks. Rotosound sends me strings. It’s funny. Now I have all of this stuff for free that I used to have to pay for every inch of the way, but I’m writing a book so I don’t have much time to play like I used to. I do play a lot, though. Blue Coupe has a lot of fun. It’s a fun band. In fact, we will be doing a show at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame on June 20. Michael Bruce is going to come. Blue Coupe is going to perform an acoustic set at the Hall with Tish and Snooky. They own Manic Panic, the hair dye company in New York City. They’ve been going for like thirty-seven years or something. Rihanna, Katy Perry, Cyndi Lauper- everybody wears Manic Panic. They also sing for a group called Sic F*cks. They call it the Sic Folks for newspapers. They’re iconic from the CBGB stage. They were there with the Barb Wire Dolls at the Joey Ramone thing. They sing with us. They sing on Blue Coupe’s two records, ‘Tornado On The Tracks’ and ‘Million Miles More’. They’ll be there at Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, and we’ll do a Blue Oyster Cult/Blue Coupe set. Then we’ll bring Michael out for an Alice Cooper set. We’re going to do that at Pittsburgh on June 19, and an acoustic version at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame on June 20. On June 21, we’ll be at the Beachland Ballroom in Cleveland to do the full shebang. 

    “There’s been a lid on this for awhile, but Alice was talking about it on his radio show. I said, ‘Hey, wait, I thought we weren’t supposed to be talking about this yet’, but he said, ‘No, it’s out’. Neal and I recorded ‘School’s Out’ with ‘Another Brick In The Wall’ for Alice’s next album, ‘The Hollywood Vampires’. It’s me and Neal with a couple of people you might recognize- Brian Johnson from AC/DC, Joe Perry, Slash, Johnny Depp. Neal and I went in to kick ass, and that’s what we did.”

         

    As for what’s on Dennis’ radar for the future, he shared:

    “There are a lot of things on the radar for my book, but I’m definitely committed to it deeply. This has been really extremely busy. It’s even busier than the glory days, because I’m doing so much of it myself. I do have this team of experts that are doing a lot of the organizing. In the old days, it was basically, ‘Dennis, sit over there until I point to where you go next’. All I did was walk around in a daydream of trying to imagine the next big thing for the Alice Cooper group. It’s different now. It’s like I’m my own paparazzi. I take a selfie, and I put my hand between me and the camera so it looks like I don’t want the picture taken. 

    “Thierry Raynaud from Strasbourg, France, is this amazing artist who lives on a boat in a canal in France. He makes the most amazing miniature guitars you’ve ever seen from scratch. He makes the strings, everything. He’ll only make two. His house is full of these. He’ll make one for Ace Frehley, and he’ll make one for himself. He doesn’t make more than that; he doesn’t sell them. He just finished the Billion Dollar Bass. It’s not as long as a pencil, hundreds of tiny rhinestones, all of the inlays on the neck, all of the scratches and stuff I talked about that’s on the actual size replica. It’s mind-boggling. You can hold it in the palm of your hand. I met this guy. Cindy and I were in France, and we get this message from friends that we could go to this guy’s house and not worried about being bothered. He met us out in the rain, and we went to his houseboat. He starts showing us these guitars, and you couldn’t believe it. It’s so well made. Every tiny knob is recreated perfectly. He showed me that he had just the beginning of the Billion Dollar Bass. It didn’t have the jewels on it or anything. He said, ‘This is going to be exactly like your bass’. Well, here we are. He finished it today- the Baby Billion Dollar Bass.”

    My final question to Dennis Dunaway is one I always ask to those who have been in the business for quite a while: When you’ve stepped off the tour bus for the final time and you’ve gone to that great gig in the sky, how do you want to be remembered and what do you hope your legacy will be?

    “I’ve always seen myself as a conceptual artist who just happens to play bass. I would like to be remembered as that and for my music. That’s pretty much it. Conceptual ideas- a lot of it is just stage theatrics like Broadway shows and stuff, but they weren’t doing that when the Alice Cooper group came along. Now you go to Madison Square Garden, and you know you’re going to see some kind of production. Nobody did that before us. I think that’s really what got us into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. ‘School’s Out’ was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame this year, and right now, they’re playing it across the country like crazy. I think we’ll always be remembered for ‘School’s Out’ and the attitude the band had. We never really played metal. The closest we came was ‘Black Juju’ which I wrote, but we had the look. We had the safety pins on the pants, which was picked up by punk. We had the attitude and stuff that a lot of metal bands adopted.”

    After my conversation with Mr. Dunaway, I sat back and reflected on all I had just heard and compared it to the memories and feelings of my youth. The rumors. The feelings I had when I heard all of those great Alice Cooper songs like “School’s Out”, “Billion Dollar Babies”, “School’s Out” and so many others. I smiled as the thoughts flooded my mind. Then, I looked for sick things under my desk.

    Keep up with Dennis Dunaway and his band at www.dennisdunaway.com and his band, Blue Coupe, at www.bluecoupeband.com. 

  • Derek Sherinian

    Posted September, 2011

    As a teenager growing up in Phoenix in the seventies, it seemed that music was alive everywhere and boundaries were being both explored and exploited.  Rock and roll was no longer relegated to three or four piece bands that were made up of a drummer, bass player and one or two guitar players and/or a vocalist.

    Keyboards – and by that I mean the new fangled synthesizers that were sweeping the entertainment industry – were beginning to make their presence known in the music business and on our stereos.  Keyboard-heavy bands like Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Yes, and Deep Purple commanded our attention and filled our ears with incredible, intricate sounds that seemed to permeate every cell of our mushy brains.  The keyboard wizardry of Keith Emerson, Rick Wakeman, and Jon Lord, respectively, took the tickling of the ivories to a whole new, mind blowing level.

    In the new millennia, an artist who has the same kind of keyboard genius pulsing through his veins and is of the same superior level of talent and creativity is one Derek Sherinian.  Beginning his affair with the piano at the age of five and, after three semesters of attending the Berklee School of Music on a scholarship, Derek found himself playing the keys with the legendary Buddy Miles, learning the ways of the road and sharpening his performance skills.

    Sherinian then went on to work with the likes of Alice Cooper (who called him “the Caligula of the Keyboards”), KISS, Yngwie Malmsteen and Dream Theater.  He’s currently the keyboard maestro for the super group, Black Country Communion (with guitar great, Joe Bonamassa, bassist, Glenn Hughes, and Jason Bonham on drums) as well as for Billy Idol.

    When he wasn’t working with these rock power houses, he produced an incredible body of solo work over the years with albums such as his first release in 1999, Planet X, which was followed by Inertia two years later.  In 2003, he released Black Utopia and Mythology the following year.  Between then and now, he produced Blood of the Snake  and Molecular Heinosity.  These albums still stand very well on their own and are a definite must for the discriminating listener who loves exceptional music.

    On the 27th of this month, Derek releases Oceana and it is his best work yet.  Co-written with his good friend and drummer, Simon Phillips, the project also enjoys some great musical muscle from friends like Joe Bonamassa, Steve Lukather, Tony MacAlpine, Tony Franklin, Steve Stevens, Doug Aldrich and Jimmy Johnson.

    I got to chat about Oceana with Sherinian recently.  Despite the fact that he was enduring a gauntlet of interviews, Derek didn’t act at all tired from the grueling chat-fest schedule. In fact, he sounded enthusiastic to be talking about his new album.

    I started off the interview by asking Derek how he would describe Oceana to any of his fans or fans of the various bands and artists he has worked with, or are currently working with.

    “I think Oceana is the most melodic and the most grooving of my solo records – and the most focused. I’ve always been very adventurous with the genres and styles of my past records. I’d say that Oceana has the most emphasis on the strong melodies. It’s less heavy metal and less progressive than its predecessors. I really think it’s my best work to date. I know that’s a cliché that artists will say but Simon Phillips and I really but a lot of time and care into the composition, the playing, the production and the choice of players.  We’re very happy with the outcome. The record’s getting rave reviews all around the world so we’re very excited about it.”

    I asked Sherinian if he and Simon wrote all the parts for the various artists to play who appeared on Oceana or did they listen to the song and come up with their own magic, he said, “Well, all the songs that I wrote with Simon where it was just the two of us, we brought Steve Lukather in to play guitar because we always hear his guitar – it’s just always there in our minds. He always comes in and exceeds our expectations.

    “Then, the other songs where I co-wrote – I did two songs with Steve Stevens  where we came up with the stuff and then put everyone else behind what we wrote.  One song I wrote with Joe Bonamassa and the other with Doug Aldrich – it basically works out that, if I write with a guitar player, that’s who winds up playing on the record.

    In this day and age where albums are often made by way of e-mailing tracks back and forth between artists who then add their track in at a studio more convenient to them, I asked Derek if there was much in the way of face time in the studio with the other artists or were they e-mailing tracks back and forth?

    “Oh, no, there was no e-mailing.  Everyone came into Simon’s studio – all the guitar players and we tracked everyone. It was great! The cool thing about living in Los Angeles is that you have the best musicians in the world within a five mile radius from my house. They’re all here.

     “The album took four and half months from the first day of writing to the mastering. It usually takes three to six months depending on everyone’s schedule because everyone’s busy in their own band or making their own records. It’s a challenge to coordinate and schedule everyone to come in.”

    I figured the toughest part of making an album would be sweating over the finer points of engineering the album, finding a producer one could trust or work well with, or trying to nail down the precise sound one was looking for.  When I asked Sherinian what he thought the toughest part of producing an album was, his answer surprised me.

    “The toughest part is coming up with names for these instrumental songs with no lyrics and then naming the album. That really is the toughest part. That really is the hardest part and the biggest struggle.”

    Musical geniuses all derive inspiration for their music in endless ways.  Derek said that, “I get inspired by whoever I’m collaborating with. I do write some songs by myself but I get much more enjoyment by going into a room with nothing with someone else and then yanking something from nothing and watching it evolve – the feedback, the back and forth. That, to me, is exciting and I get inspired by working with people that I really respect.”

    I followed up that question by asking if he has a particular person or audience in mind as he crafts his music.

    “I don’t know. I all just comes down to just closing your mind off and letting your hands move and let your ears rule what’s going on. It all just works out how it’s supposed to.”

    I found it interesting that Sherinian co-wrote Oceana with a drummer (Simon Phillips) instead of, say, a guitar player.  I asked him why that was.

    “Well, Simon and I first started working together on my Inertia record in 2001. For one thing, Simon is my favorite drummer. I love his choice of beats and groove.  But he’s also very melodic. He’s very capable of going on a keyboard and writing and comes up with great ideas. We just have a connection when we write – a chemistry and it always flows very nicely and we always come up with great stuff together.”

    As mentioned earlier, the “Caligula of the keyboards” has worked with some great people throughout your career.  When I asked Sherinian who he hasn’t worked with but hasn’t yet, his answer appeared to be very much at the forefront of his mind.

    “I haven’t worked with Jeff Beck yet. He’s on my list and it’s going to happen at some time. I don’t know when but it’s destined to happen. That’s on my bucket list. I’d like to play on his record or, more, I’d him playing on my record with me and Simon writing and playing – or tour with him – in any capacity would be great. But I think that would be the best if he agreed to play on one of my records and have Simon co-write and produce.

    “It would also be great to get Edward Van Halen to come in play on one of my solo records. I got a chance to play with him live in 2006 at a private party. That was very cool but it would be nice to write a killer instrumental with him and have him come in and track it.”

    With someone who is as intricate in their playing guitar as he is on keyboard, I asked if creating music with a Lukather, Stevens or Bonamassa proved to be more challenging or more synergistic.

    “It doesn’t matter. I’ll go in and do something with someone like Tony MacAlpine, who has amazing chops. I just blend. I’m very chameleonic but at the same time I keep my signature sound with whoever I’m playing with. So, it doesn’t matter.”

    As for tour plans in support of Oceana, Derek shared that, “there’s talk of us doing some stuff in Europe next year. We’re trying to put that all together. Just stay tuned to my website, DerekSherinian.com for updates on that.”

    Sherinians said that, as for plans for the next year, five years, beyond, “I know that next year I’m going to do some more stuff with Black Country Communion – another record.  At the end of this month I start rehearsing with Billy Idol. We’re going to do a short run.  Beyond that, it’s just broad strokes. I just try to stay musical and creative and surround myself with the best players in the world and keep moving forward.

    “I would love to get to a place where I sell enough records that I can go tour my solo stuff around the world so that I don’t have to do anything else. That would be an awesome place to be, career-wise, and I’m not there yet.  That’s what I’m working on.”

    As our call was wrapping up, my final question to the keyboard genius was the one I often ask at the close of an interview these days: How do you want to be remembered and what would you like to have accomplished when you’ve gone to the great keyboard in the sky?

    “I want to be remembered as one of the greats and I want to be known that influenced a whole legion of young – not just keyboard players but musicians. I want to be known as someone that was the architect of metal fusion through my albums, my legacy of who I’ve played with. I just want to leave a mark.”

    No doubt, Derek Sherinian will be around for a very long time and will build just such a legacy.  You can pre-order/order Oceana or Derek’s other great solo work by clicking on the icons on the right side of this page.  Every serious rock music library should have these albums.
    Also, as he mentioned, you can keep up with his solo tour schedule as well as with Black Country Communion, Billy Idol and others buy visiting www.dereksherinian.com.

  • Release

    releasealbumcoverRelease
    Damon Johnson
    Label: CDBY
    Reviewed: May, 2011

    Release is the second solo project released by guitarist, Damon Johnson, which, like his first solo album, Dust, is all acoustic. While there are some tunes between the two albums that complement each other, Release presents an excellent collection of mostly Johnson crafted tunes that have a feel and vibe all their own.

    Beautifully crafted lyrics, perfect melodies and chording on the guitar and vocals all make Release a must-have album for your listening library. While Johnson is certainly capable of blazing acoustic and electric guitars, alike, with his incredible playing ability, it’s how he plays simple chords and melodies on each song. One additional note or chord would have upset the balance of these excellently crafted jewels and Damon seems to know that as he offers them up. Cuts like the title song, as well as Dayton, Ohio, Leave It All Behind and Satellites conjured up memories of Layne Staley while have sounds distinctly Damon.

    As is often the case, while I loved the entire album, I do have a couple of personal favorites. Pontiac takes me back to my teens, tearing up roads all over the country. I swear that I can almost smell the farms and orchards I used to drive by as a kid as I listen to this song. Another favorite is Just Feel Better. Co-written by Damon and originally recorded by Santana with Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler kicking in with vocals, Johnson sings it with the heart and soul of one who lived the story told within the lyrics. Listen to this song once and it will stay in your cranium for hours.

    Okay. I lied. I have a third favorite from the album. Generation Landslide from Alice Cooper’s 1973 album, Billion Dollar Babies, is remarkable for several reasons. One being that, though performed acoustically, the song is bang-on identical to the original recording. So much so that the second reason for its remarkableness is that, because I knew that Alice was on that song, I assumed that he provided all of the vocals on it. Nope. Except for the help on the chorus lines, Johnson delivered a perfect delivery of the tune. It even fooled the Snakemeister himself (you can read about that here). The third remarkable attribute of this song is Cooper playing the harmonica exactly as he did on the original recording. This song alone is worth the entire purchase price.

    If you love great acoustic guitar gently coated with beautiful lyrics and delivered with perfect vocals, you will want your copy of Release. You’ll be telling your friends all about it by the second listen. It’s that good.

  • Rick Derringer

    Posted May, 2009

    In the early Seventies, many a teenage boy fantasized about being able to play guitar just like their favorite guitar hero.  When they’re favorite guitar song would come on the radio or while listening to it in their room, they would imagine that was THEM playing that song.

    One such song during those innocent times was a song that helped define the music of the Seventies.  That song is "Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo".  The guitar virtuoso wailing on the guitar on that song was a 26 year old man by the name of Rick Derringer.

    By the time that song was rocking the airwaves, Derringer was already an 8 year veteran of the rock scene.  He recorded his first huge hit, Hang On Sloopy, at the tender age of 17, with his band, The McCoys.  He also performed the guitar solo on Alice Cooper’s 1971 album, Killer.  Soon after “Hoochie Koo”, Derringer had a follow-up hit with Teenage Love Affair.  With those hits under his belt, Rick worked with Johnny Winter and his brother, Edgar, as well as the jazz rock band, Steely Dan.

    In the Eighties and Nineties, Derringer has been involved in a plethora of projects and bands, including working with Weird Al Yankovic, Barbara Streisand, Kiss, and Cyndi Lauper, as well as work for the World Wrestling Federation.  This was all in addition to his continual touring and working on his own projects.

    In recent years, he’s converted to Christianity but still tours and performs his past hits as well as his more recent work.  In 2006, he was featured in a Fidelity Investments television commercial.  In 2007, “Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo” was featured in the Xbox 360 version of Guitar Hero 2, which will inspire another legion of teenage boys to fantasize about playing just like Rick.

    I had the privilege of sitting down with Rick Derringer during his appearances at the 2009 Dallas International Guitar show.  We covered a wide range of topics that included his new CD, Knighted By The Blues, and his line of guitars. We also discussed his vintage guitar business and the market in general, as well as his faith and several other topics.

    A scramble-brained rock star he is not.  Derringer is an affable man who can converse on almost any topic and smoothly segue from one topic to another.  His business finesse and command of current events and how he views it all through the lens of his faith is evident from the git-go.

    I started off by asking Rick Derringer how the guitar show was going for him.  “Very good!  I mean, I come here, more than anything, to just do my concert, be a part of this great roster of guitar players and Jimmy Wallace, who runs the show, is also a good, strong Christian and I like to help him out.  One of my favorite parts of the show is Sunday morning, before the show starts, we have church over there.  So, I come here for a lot of other kind of reasons that aren’t necessarily connected to selling guitars.

    “On the other hand, I do work with Warrior Guitars.  We’ve created a Rick Derringer Signature Model guitar.  And, uh, I always spend a quite a bit of time at their booth showing people that guitar.”

    When asked how sales of his Signature Model guitar were, he enthusiastically responds, “They do pretty well!  It’s a custom guitar company.  They make them by hand.  You don’t see them in many music stores so it’s kind of a smaller number of sales than like a Paul Reed Smith or something like that.

    Paul Reed Smith, I think, makes 70 a day at this point.  And we make about, I think, 30 in a month, which is still pretty good volume but – and there are all other (Warrior) guitars as well as the Rick Derringer model.  But people that play it enjoy it and because of that, most of them that are really ready to buy a guitar – after they play it, will buy that one! “

    We then segued into a discussion about his vintage guitar business.  He describes it this way:  “Yeah, well, always in my life, I’ve been a lover of toys.  A new guitar, to me, is a toy.  And, so, I enjoy acquiring the NEW guitars.  So, what I usually do is, I take my old ones and I play them for awhile.  And they end up sitting somewhere in a vault or somewhere.  Eventually, I sell those old ones so that I can get more NEW ones!  And that has turned into being kind of a business over the years. I always have guitars in my collection and whenever I put a few up for sale, they seem to go pretty fast.  We always provide a certificate with them saying that they’re from my collection and that adds a little bit to the value, as well.”

    However, Derringer acknowledges that the current economy is impacting his business.  “I think that it’s affecting everything!  Not just the vintage guitar business.  It definitely affects everything.  I mean, we’ve all heard that people thought that they had money.  They thought they had invested wisely in real estate and they looked at that equity as their nest egg.  And they looked at themselves as affluent!  As soon as that disappeared, as that nest egg became, apparently, gone, that affluence that they felt was gone, too.

    “So, all of a sudden, when people felt that they had money that they could spend for whatever it was, they don’t feel like that anymore.  So, I think it’s definitely affected the vintage guitar business from one point of view.

    “Now, here’s the other side of the coin:  People are nervous about putting their money in real estate.  They’re nervous about putting it in stocks.  And there are some things that have intrinsic value that will not go away.  One of those things is rare instruments and from that point of view people that see that are still there and they’re actually looking to buy up instruments right now when they’re cheaper – a little cheaper.”

    With the help of a weak dollar, Rick is seeing continued purchases not only domestically but from overseas, especially Japan.  “It’s a world-wide business. Certainly the Japanese like to come over and take the guitars back over there.  But it’s a worldwide business.”

    We turn the discussion to Derringer’s touring.  “Touring this year is less.  This year, I decided to just really tell my agent that I was retiring from concerts.  He chose that as a opportunity to say, ‘Well, if I got you ‘this much’ money, would that mean that we could still get you out there?’  And, I said, ‘Yeah’.  But it was quite a bit more than I have previously charged.  So, I didn’t expect to get any gigs, frankly.  I just said, ‘Okay, I will put in the hands of the Lord and He will provide.’

    "And what has happened is He has!  Just by not having as much of my time tied up travelling, I’ve been able to work on a lot of other kinds of projects.  Albums, CD’s and things like that.  And, also, then just devoting time to properly focusing on our business.  We also manage other artists and produce other records and things like that, too.”

    Derringer has a new CD out entitled, Knighted By The Blues.  I asked him to tell me about it.

    “Yeah! ‘Knighted By The Blues’, it’s called.  It’s on Blues Bureau International Records.  I’ve done – this will be the fifth one for them.  And each time – in some ways – they’ve given me a little more freedom.  But Mike Varney, the president of the company, really is a very strong president.  He has his definite ideas.  He’s a guitar player himself.  He wants to make records for guitar players.  And he wants, somehow, to make sure his interests are protected.  He helps you choose songs for the records and things like that.  And this is the first one where he’s actually allowed me to just ahead and do it without his – I did it in the studio where I like to record as opposed to his turf.  I used the musicians that I like as opposed to the ones HE likes.  I chose the material myself as opposed to him having any input.  And from that point of view, it certainly reflects more what I look at as a blues CD.  And that is not necessarily the strict, old-timey, kind of blues that – it’s a different kind of blues CD.

    “It’s a little more current.  The songs are more relevant to subjects that I think are current.  It doesn’t rely as much on just old songs, too.  There are not as many covers there.  And the covers that I have done, I am personally fond of as opposed to somebody saying, ‘Well I think everybody else is going to like this song.’

    “I’ve done Jimi Hendrix’s, “If Six Was Nine”, which is a song that I always enjoyed.  We changed the lyrics just enough to make them reflective of my Christianity.  And it’s not one that a lot of people have covered.  So, it’s one that people will find refreshing.

    “I did a very rare Ray Charles song that I don’t know – I think only one other person has ever even recorded it as far as I know.  Diana, uh, not Krall. Ah, it doesn’t matter.  At any rate, only one other cover that I know of, of the song.  It’s called, “Funny, But I Still Love You” and I LOVE that song.  We closed the album with that one.

    “So, most of it, though, is brand new original stuff.  And it expands the gamut from the slow, what we call “gut bucket blues” all the way to – one which seems to be finding acceptance with rock radio.  I can’t believe it!  I never would’ve expected it!”

    Later in the conversation, Derringer glows as he describes his wife’s contributions to the CD.  “She’s written about – we wrote seven songs – original songs.  And I think one or two of them I wrote.  One of them, she wrote. And the rest we wrote together.  She’s right there all the time!

    “One of the songs – the one that rock radio likes – she didn’t even present that lyric to me.  She said, ‘Here’s some stuff that might be good for the blues album.’ But that’s not one of them.  I actually was able to go into her computer and pull up her song file and go through things.  And I found that one that she hadn’t even taken that much of an interest in, frankly.  But I said that this could be really cool!  So I took that one myself without even asking her and took it to the studio and turned it into a song, which she was pleasantly surprised!”

    Later, when asked about the rest of his family, Derringer’s eyes light up again, telling me that he has a 16 year old and a 17 year old.  I comment that “they’ve obviously got to think that it’s pretty cool that their dad is a rock ‘n roller and can show them a thing or two.”

    He shoots back, “They do! They do!  My daughter really sings well as does my wife.  And my son, he’s turned in to more of a writer.  He’s turned into a lyricist, so he’s writing words for songs.  And that’s cool.  So, we’re just – whatever they want to do, is pretty much up to them.  I try not to be the boss too much.”

    One of the questions I like to ask those that I interview is how, if they were starting today instead of when they did, would they be able to start the same way?  I asked Derringer this question.  His reply surprised me.

    “It wouldn’t be a lot different.  I mean, we were out there in the grass roots, just trying to be a good band.  And that doesn’t change.  You’re not going to get anywhere if the band isn’t good enough.  So, the first thing you concentrate on is on being a really good little band.  And we then went out, using that.  (We) got local gigs – as many as we could and tried to find gigs with radio stations and things like that, that would give us a little more visibility.  And that’s no different.  Everybody has to do the same kind of thing in that respect.  And, obviously, the end result is that somebody will find YOU.  The music business will find YOU.

    “People have it a lot easier in some ways now.  They can supply their music to download sources, iTunes just being one of them.  But they – without a record company – can get their music out there and, theoretically, grow and become more well-known.  So that’s the only thing that’s really changed is the way – the ease – which you can get into the music business.  In some ways, it’s easier now than it even was then.

    “The music business still loves young people – the young artists.  From that point of view, that hasn’t changed, either.  It’s easier for a young person to get a contract or record deal – or even a place on American Idol than it is for an older person.  That hasn’t changed.  So, uh, in some ways, I’m giving a message of hope and blessing because it’s just – all they have to do is be good.  Practice enough to be good.  The rest will come pretty easy.”

    “So, is there a guitarist today – new – that really commands your attention?  I don’t want to put you on the spot!”

    After pausing for just a moment, Rick answers, “Nobody in particular.  I was going to say a couple of names but – nobody in particular.  In fact, the lead guitar has kind of been downplayed, and it’s just more about the music and the songs than ever.  That hasn’t changed.

    “But, you know, people are starting to find – I understand that the vinyl records has gone up over 30% last year.  And a lot of that is specifically college kids – people in dorms.  And they found that they don’t just have to have ear buds and only be by themselves.  They can actually put a turntable in their room, with speakers, and play music and other people can come in the room and all of them hang out at the same time!”

    “Interaction, imagine that!”

    “Yeah!  So, from that point of view, it seems to be growing more and more all the time.

    Bringing the discussion back to the theoretical “then and now” discussion, I asked, “If you were 16 today and starting a band, would you be doing the kind of music you’re doing now?  Do you feel that was just what you were cut out to do?”

    “ Yeah, music has to be reflective – every kid will find the kid of music he likes.  But they are finding, like I said – through the LP’s and stuff – they’re finding those guitar players.  They’re finding me and they’re finding Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page.  All the music from the era that we’re from is being found, whether it’s by young kids or college kids.

    “Guitar Hero (Xbox 360) used “Rock and Roll Hootchie Koo” in its very second incarnation, Guitar Hero 2.  So I was only one of the first 20 songs that were out there and that is giving us a world-wide presence again, too.  So, that kind of stuff is making – in fact, they accounted for 1/3 of the world wide music business in the last few years - Guitar Hero alone!  It’s incredible.  Everybody has one now.  The family has one.  Some families have several!  But it’s amazing what that has done for music, too.”

    I add, “Our generation of music, it just spans.  It can stand on its own.  And people reach back to it as a foundation.”

    “Well, it meant something special to us as a generation of – I don’t think that it holds the same place.  Music is viable, certainly, and kids will always go there.  Music is always going to be something that helps people.  Music is a different language – language of our soul, in some ways, (the) language of our heart.  And that’s not going to change.  We are humans.  As long as we have souls and hearts, then music will be viable.  And that hasn’t changed at all.  Like we said, kids will find the music they feel is important to them.  And that’s the stuff they’ll do!”

    Derringer is not the least bit shy in letting it be known that he is a Christian.  Since he brought it up a couple of times, I drilled into how his faith has impacted his relationships within the music business and with his fan base.

    “It hasn’t hurt anything!  It hasn’t hurt at all!  As a matter of fact, the idea is for some of ‘me’ to rub off on them!  And that’s what we’re really most excited about.  THAT’s the idea.  I mean, if all of a sudden I changed as a person and I – my music started sucking – uh, they’d all have a pretty bad image of it.

    “They’d blame it all on it (his faith), huh?”, I added.

    “Yeah, but, in reality, what happens is, you know, you’re still the same person you always were.  Where the Lord loves us THEN, He loves us NOW!  And music doesn’t have to get worse.  The fact of the matter just have to have ear buds and only be by themselves.  They can actually put a turntable in their room, with speakers, and play music and other people can come in the room and all of them hang out at the same time!”

    “Interaction, imagine that!”

    “Yeah!  So, from that point of view, it seems to be growing more and more all the time.

    Bringing the discussion back to the theoretical “then and now” discussion, I asked, “If you were 16 today and starting a band, would you be doing the kind of music you’re doing now?  Do you feel that was just what you were cut out to do?”

    “ Yeah, music has to be reflective – every kid will find the kid of music he likes.  But they are finding, like I said – through the LP’s and stuff – they’re finding those guitar players.  They’re finding me and they’re finding Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page.  All the music from the era that we’re from is being found, whether it’s by young kids or college kids.

    “Guitar Hero (Xbox 360) used “Rock and Roll Hootchie Koo” in its very second incarnation, Guitar Hero 2.  So I was only one of the first 20 songs that were out there and that is giving us a world-wide presence again, too.  So, that kind of stuff is making – in fact, they accounted for 1/3 of the world wide music business in the last few years - Guitar Hero alone!  It’s incredible.  Everybody has one now.  The family has one.  Some families have several!  But it’s amazing what that has done for music, too.”

    I add, “Our generation of music, it just spans.  It can stand on its own.  And people reach back to it as a foundation.”

    “Well, it meant something special to us as a generation of – I don’t think that it holds the same place.  Music is viable, certainly, and kids will always go there.  Music is always going to be something that helps people.  Music is a different language – language of our soul, in some ways, (the) language of our heart.  And that’s not going to change.  We are humans.  As long as we have souls and hearts, then music will be viable.  And that hasn’t changed at all.  Like we said, kids will find the music they feel is important to them.  And that’s the stuff they’ll do!”

    Derringer is not the least bit shy in letting it be known that he is a Christian.  Since he brought it up a couple of times, I drilled into how his faith has impacted his relationships within the music business and with his fan base.

    “It hasn’t hurt anything!  It hasn’t hurt at all!  As a matter of fact, the idea is for some of ‘me’ to rub off on them!  And that’s what we’re really most excited about.  THAT’s the idea.  I mean, if all of a sudden I changed as a person and I – my music started sucking – uh, they’d all have a pretty bad image of it.

    “They’d blame it all on it (his faith), huh?”, I added.

    “Yeah, but, in reality, what happens is, you know, you’re still the same person you always were.  Where the Lord loves us THEN, He loves us NOW!  And music doesn’t have to get worse.  The fact of the matter is, your conscience being freed up just lightens your load so that your creativity and music can soar!  That’s what I’ve found and people are excited about hearing that.

    “So it hasn’t turned anybody off and, as a matter of fact, I have people telling me all the time that they appreciate seeing my testimony on the website.  And we’re actually spreading that more all the time, rather than less.  And that helps people see that they can, you know - they’re not alone!  The Lord can help ME.  He can help them!  And that’s the message that we have!”

    Rick becomes even more animated at this point.  “Amazing!  Yeah!  Yeah!  You just put your – live by faith!  LIVE-BY-FAITH!  Because HE will provide!  “I will take care!” Like this year, for instance, like I said, I raised my price pretty drastically.  And, all of a sudden, I was turning down some shows because they were for less than what I was asking for.

     “And my road manager called me up and he was a little concerned, you know?  “You’re turning down this show!  This is a good concert!”  And I explained to him, ‘You know? Look. I put it in the hands of the Lord.  I told the Lord that I have FAITH that He will PROVIDE what we see as necessary.  If all of a sudden we take the first gig that comes along that is way less than what I asked the Lord for, what kind of faith is that?’  What kind of faith does that show?!  You HAVE to have the faith!  I mean, you just can’t pretend.  It has to be real!  As long as you put your faith in the Lord, He will provide!”

    Curious how the church world was receiving him, I asked, “Are you getting any interest from church circles for your work?”

    “Uh, well, we haven’t really tried to go out there and, uh, shoot for that.   But slowly –“

    “You’re a different kind of gig than that.”

    “Yeah, and I do have more churches and stuff, though, that are coming around, asking me to perform, and things like that.  But here’s what happened.  When I first started doing more Christian based music and changing some of my songs to reflect that standing, I was a little concerned about the kind of shows – we’d play for biker events.  And I don’t play anymore - we were playing bars and those kinds of venues.  And I was a little concerned so I asked my pastor at that time for their advice.  And what they told me was that, really look at it as the opportunity that the Lord has given me!  If I go into a church, playing for a bunch of believers . . .”

    “You’re preaching to the choir!”

    “Yeah, it certainly reinforces THEIR belief.  Once again, their saved!  You’re preaching to the choir!

    “On the other hand, the places that I just mentioned where I play, they don’t necessarily ever invite a Christian artist to play those places.  So, I’m able to go in there – totally with their approval – and they’re even paying me – and play my concert and throw in a few songs that have now been changed to reflect that Christian standpoint.  I’m given that opportunity that nobody else has!  So I’m able to go in there and just do what Jesus said to do!  Be that light in the real world and, uh, deliver that message.  And even if some people don’t hear the lyrics, if they just – if I’m reflecting Jesus to that audience and they should be able to feel that and see it . . . and it works!  They said, ‘You should be doing THAT! That’s a responsibility that you’ve been given and you should honor it!’ And that’s what we do!”

    Later, when mentioning other rockers who have also proclaimed their faith, Derringer interjects, “We call ourselves, ‘Double agents for the Lord!  We’re working behind the enemy lines!”

    We wrapped up our chat with what he’s got coming up, which includes some dates with Edgar and Johnny Winter in September.  Rick Derringer’s appearances are listed on his website, www.rickderringer.com.

    This article written by Randy Patterson.  All rights reserved and cannot not be used without written permission, which can be obtained by writing This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

  • Shep Gordon Talks Alice Cooper, Chefs, and the Dali Lama

    Posted March 2017

    jesse dittmar shep gordon croppedPhoto by Jesse DittmarOdds are pretty good that unless you’re a real music business geek (or a celebrity chef business geek), you have never heard of Shep Gordon.

    I became aware of Shep many moons ago because I’ve been an Alice Cooper fan for over forty-five years and Shep just happens to be Alice’s one and only manager.

    In 2015, Mike Meyers (Yeah, Mike “We’re Not Worthy” Meyers) produced a documentary about Shep entitled, Supermensch. The phenomenal response to the film is one of the reasons that prompted Shep to write his autobiography, They Call Me Supermensch.

    The book and movie certainly delivered what I had hoped and expected with regards to stories about Alice Cooper. However, it was a real eye-opener because of the mountain of other accomplishments Gordon has achieved in his momentous career.

    Chief of those accomplishments (at least, from my view) is the role of adoptive parent and grandparent. I don’t want to spoil the story in the book but let’s just say that Shep stepped up to the role and challenge in a huge way. The book is worth the purchase just for that story alone.

    Suffice it to say, because of the movie and book, I requested an interview with the legendary 

    manager to the chefs and stars (now mostly retired), and Gordon was gracious enough to accept.

    I called Shep at his beachfront home in Maui. If you watch the movie, you will see that it was a home that he bought for privacy, serenity, and entertaining. The views are spectacular and definitely seem to be key to Gordon’s Zen-like approach to life these days.

    At the outset of our chat, Gordon shared the motivations behind writing his book.

    “It was a combination of things. It was really sparked by being at an event and Anthony Bourdain coming up to me and introducing himself, telling me he had become a book publisher and not just for his own books with Harper Collins and he wanted to do a book with me. I loved his work. I didn’t know him but I’m a bit of a groupie. It sounded like an interesting path.

    “That - combined with the movie - brought a lot of attention to me and it brought a lot of people sort of looking for answers. ‘How come you’re happy?’ How to be successful. How to be happy. Big questions that I certainly didn’t feel qualified to give an answer to but thought that maybe if I spent some time doing my own kind of exploration of my life, I would find common themes that I could pass on to someone that might help them.

    “So that had sort of been in the back of my mind. Then Anthony Bourdain showed up and I said, ‘Okay, let’s take a crack.’ Sort of like seventy years of psychotherapy put into two years.”

    And how long did it take to get it done?

    “Yeah, it took about two years to vomit it up!” he said, laughing.

    jesse dittmar shep gordon 06When I interviewed Joey Kramer about his book, Hit Hard, he said that it was quite cathartic for him. I asked if that was the same for Gordon.

    “Yeah, very much so. That’s what I meant by ‘psychotherapy.’ It really made me be introspective and find a lot of stuff about myself. Hopefully, some people can use it to help them.”

    And the feedback from readers about the book has been enormous.

    “Yeah, quite a bit. Sort of like you. They read it and ‘it really touched me and I’d like to talk about it.’ It’s had an impact.”

    Many authors, when setting out to write about themselves, are surprised by the raw emotions and memories that are unearthed during the process. Shep Gordon was no exception.

    “I got a much deeper appreciation of my father and how much of my life was sort of following in his footsteps. Things that I didn’t really realize beforehand but by writing the book I came to realize that he really sacrificed a lot to raise me and I sacrifice a lot to do what I do and never knowing why I was doing it.

    “My dad died while I was fairly young and my mom passed away about twenty-five years ago. I think my dad was about thirty years ago, thirty five years ago. TheyEverythingKnoxvilleLogoEdited each got to about seventy. I’m seventy-one. I think I was thirty-five when he passed away. Something like that.”

    One of the many surprises in They Call Me Supermensch is learning that none other than Jimi Hendrix is the reason why Shep got into the artist management business.

    “Yeah, in sort of a left-handed way but he introduced me to Alice Cooper. I was sitting around with him and the Chamber Brothers. They asked me what I was doing for a living and nothing I was doing was legal. Anthony Bourdain said that I was a ‘pharmaceutical salesman’. They were great customers but they wanted to know what did I do that was legitimate. I didn’t really do anything and Jimi said, ‘Are you Jewish?’ And I am and I answered him honestly and he said, ‘You should be a manager.’

    “The Chamber Brothers were sitting there – a couple of them – Willie and Lester – and they said that they had a band from Phoenix living in their basement that needed a manager – Alice Cooper. And that’s how it started some forty-odd years ago.”

    When I asked if he hung out with Hendrix anymore after that, Gordon replied:

    “Not a lot. He was on the road a lot. Doing a lot of recording. Going over to London. So not a whole lot. Chamber Brothers were there a lot so we hung a lot more. And Janis Joplin was there. She ended up dying there. So, she was around.

    “But everybody came in and out. I had Pink Floyd, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and Bob Dylan. Everybody. It was sort of the rock and roll hangout.”

    The place Shep is referring to is the legendary Landmark Motor Hotel. Notorious for being Mecca for artists in the early days of classic rock, it is also where Janis Joplin passed away.

    Typical of any major writing project, there are things that are planned to be included in the work that, for whatever reason, just doesn’t make the final cut due to having second thoughts about their importance or reader interest. Supermensch was no exception for Shep.

    “Yeah, I think a lot of the things that didn’t make the cut were – and another part of the effect of writing the book had on me – was maybe some of the things I was holding as anger I had let go. When I saw them in front of me, I realized it was a petty anger and let it go.

    “And, then, there were a few things that Legal cut out of the book that I can’t actually talk about; people who are still living I felt needed to be exposed but I just couldn’t do it legally. It’s part of the reality of living in our world.”

    I’m a huge Alice Cooper fan and have been since I was around eleven or twelve years old. I say that I was a fan then. I think that it was actually a scared and morbid fascination with all the Cooper did in those early days to push the envelope rock performance. All that said, I asked Gordon what the least known or understood thing was about Alice.

    “What a good lyricist he is. I would say that he gets the least amount of credit for that. He’s really a great lyricist. It comes to him really fast. It’s amazing. I’ve never seen anybody write as fast as him.”

    Readers will be fascinated in reading about all the huge names Shep knew on a personal level and/or managed.  It reads like a Hollywood “Who’s Who” - people like Groucho Marx, Salvador Dali, and the Dali Lama. As a kid growing up in New York, knowing and working with the rich and/or famous was never in his plans.

    “It was never on my radar screen at all which I think helped me in the beginning stages of my career because it was never on my radar screen at all. As I became immersed in my business, I found myself becoming more and more of a groupie. I’m really attracted to power and wealth. I think part of it is the fool’s gold aspect of it. But part of it is most of the people who get above the crowd got there for some reason. So, they become real interesting personalities and a lot of them I always felt that I could learn a lot from.

    “But I definitely, in my younger years, could not care less about celebrity. I’m definitely a victim of the times because now I see myself always attracted to fame and power.”

    When I shared that my experience in interviewing celebrities has pretty much been a positive one, Shep added:

    “We’re all just people. In the end, we’re all just people. It doesn’t matter who you are. The same thing happens in a super market. Seventy percent of the people checking you out are nice and thirty percent are, ‘What did I ever do to bother you?’ It’s a human condition more than an entertainer’s condition.

    “I think entertainers have a different set of things where they’re different. The way they touch and feel the world is different than a lot of people because, usually, if they’re successful, they have people who touch the world for them. So that part, maybe, becomes a little different. A little different sense of reality.

    “But, as far as the basic core of humans, they all wipe their ass . . . if they’re still fortunate enough to be able to do it,” Gordon said with his trademark laugh.

    I often ask people in interviews how they would fix the music business if they were made Music Czar – assuming that it needs fixing. Gordon’s response surprised me.

    “Nah, I don’t think it needs fixing. It is what it is. The Grammy show will probably be the most watched show in the history of the Grammy’s, like it is every year.

    “Part of music is if the old people like it, the young people don’t and if the young people like it, the old people won’t. What needs fixing in an art form is a very qualitative question. It’s in the eyes of the beholder . . . in my opinion. I know there’s a wide held belief that music is not as good, it’s not as successful. I don’t feel qualified to say that.

    “I went to see the play, Hamilton. It was just as valid as a Broadway play. It had songs that I wouldn’t call a song. But to my kids, those are songs. One of the main raps that I hear from fellow people in the business my age is that there’s no more songs. It depends on how you define a song. There’s no more songs as we know them. That’s sort of my feeling. It’s sort of a young people’s game to vent and an old people’s game to enjoy.”

    Shep Gordon is primarily known for being an artist manager representing not only Alice Cooper but also Anne Murray, Blondie, Teddy Pendergrass, Luther Vandross, and others. However, many readers will be surprised to learn that he is also credited for making the celebrity chef world what it is today. When I asked what the differences or similarities are between the music and culinary worlds, Gordon said:

    “I think they’re almost exactly the same. In the end, they all do the same. The culinary art form is so developed. It’s great artists the same way that I think Alice is a great artist. I think Emeril Lagasse is a great artist on many levels.

    “For Alice it’s lyric writing. For Emeril, it’s recipe writing. For Alice, it’s on the stage. For Emeril, it’s in front of the camera. They both have to play their hits all the time. If Alice does a concert and doesn’t do “School’s Out,” his audience would be really disappointed. If Emeril didn’t do some Cajun dishes, his audience would be really disappointed.

    “They also have to invent new stuff. If Alice didn’t write new material, he’d become a thing of the past. Same thing with Emeril. Gotta write new recipes. They both spend the afternoon in their street clothes. Show time comes, Alice puts on his uniform and Emeril puts on his whites. Alice gets the band together and says, ‘You know, last night, I’d like to hear the guitar part here a little longer; maybe you could hold the bass down there and I’m going to do one lyric.’ Emeril gets the chefs together and goes, ‘You know, guys, last night there was little salt in that fish and I really want that potato cooked another thirty seconds.’ And, then, the show begins. Alice hits the stage. Emeril hits the kitchen and they, hopefully, make their customers happy and go home. You know, it’s really the same kind of thing.

    “What the chefs didn’t have when I got started was any way to touch their fans outside their kitchens. So, think about if there weren’t record players, radio stations, or arenas, Michael Jackson would be a wandering minstrel. Just like Emeril had one restaurant. It was the invention of the record player and radio and TV and all these outlets that allowed them to touch their audiences. T-shirts with their names on it. That’s what I did for the chefs. All they had was one restaurant.

    “I got the TV Food Network on the air and I got them selling pots and pans and doing videos of their cooking and selling cookbooks – ways that an Emeril Lagasse fan didn’t have to be in a hundred seat restaurant to be a fan and to live part of the experience. He sells spices. He can make his recipes.

    “And now they’re starting to get remuneration at the level of rock stars. Emeril gets three or four hundred thousand dollars some nights to do big parties just like U2 gets paid fortunes to do their thing. Emeril is making a fortune on QVC just like the artists are making their money.

    “So, to me, it was very obvious. They were great artists just like musical artists. They just happen to be culinary artists. They did exactly the same thing. They just didn’t have a way to touch their audience.”

    And what does Shep hope people take away from the movie and book?

    “My first reaction to the question is that I don’t really care. The movie wasn’t my thing. It was Mike Meyers. I never really did it for a reaction. The book, I think more personally, I hope that people take away the fact: live your life. You’re gonna die. Everybody’s gonna die. Live your life and be proud of what you do. You can do it the right way and be successful and be happy. I hope that comes through.”

    As for what is on Gordon’s work radar for the next year or so, he says:

    “I don’t really know. I’ve never really been a planner. I know I’m going to continue with Alice. It’s like a body part. He’s at a point in his life where he really is enjoying being on stage. He loves his band. I think he’s doing a hundred and ten dates this year.

    “Next year I think that we’re doing some things with the Hollywood Vampires, which has been a lot of fun to put together and work on. I just see a lot of charity stuff and projects. I’m starting to do some talks. I’ll be speaking in Orlando and speaking up in Carmel. It’s nice. It gives me a chance to interact with the audience and let them ask questions about the book. I feel very comfortable in giving answers.”

    As we wrapped up our chat, I asked Shep Gordon what I often ask people who have been in the business for a long time like he has. How does he want to be remembered and what does he hope his legacy is?

    “No idea. That he was a good cook and a great grandpa. I loved people. I sorta do what I do for me so I don’t really think about things in those terms. I just hope that it’s not a big funeral that people have to travel to.”

    If you haven’t done so already, you will definitely want to order Shep’s book, They Call Me Supermensch. Heck, while you’re at it, order Mike Meyers’ Supermensch. Both are well worth the investment and are fascinating to devour.

    After you’ve read the book, try to start living life with “coupons” (you’ll know what that means when you read the book).

  • Steve Lukather Talks About TOTO XIV

    March, 2015

    Photo by Heather Porcaro

         

    If you’re a music aficionado at all, you’ve heard of Toto and are familiar with their mega huge hits like “Africa,” Rosanna,” “99,” “I Won’t Hold You Back,” “I’ll Be Over You,” and many other hits.

    What you may not be aware of are these absolutely amazing statistics:

    •They have recently celebrated their 35th anniversary as a band

    •Have sold over 35 million albums

    •Band members were South Park characters, while Family Guy did an entire episode on the band’s hit “Africa.” 

    •Collectively, the members of the band of made their mark on over 5,000 different albums that total a half billion units in record sales

    •It’s been estimated that 95% of the world’s population has heard a performance by a band member of TOTO

    The band is releasing their first studio album of new material in ten years entitled, “TOTO XIV.”  I recently chatted with founding member, guitarist and vocalist, Steve Lukather (“Luke”), about the album. I contacted him at his hotel room in Birmingham, Alabama, while he was on the road performing with Ringo Starr (yeah, THE Ringo Starr).

    Luke accounts for much of the previously mentioned statistics. He’s contributed to approximately 2,000 albums for artists such as Michael Jackson (including much of the “Thriller” album), Rod Stewart, Miles Davis, Alice Cooper, Cheap Trick, Roger Waters, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Larry Carlton and countless others. 

    Before discussing the new album, I asked Luke what he’s been up to.

    “Well, I’m out with Ringo right now, and I just started. This is, like, day three or something like that. It’s going great! I’ve been working on promoting the album, and I’m kinda managing the band and getting the tour together. It’s like juggling a chainsaw, razorblade, and a toothpick at the same time. But I’m doing ok.”

    When asked about TOTO XIV, he said:

    “I never thought we’d do another record, actually. When we got back together in 2010, it was to help our brother, Mike Porcaro, with some of his medical bills. He’s been tragically hit with ALS, and sadly, he’s really not doing well right now. It’s eight years into it, and it’s a tragic, horrible, insidious, cruel disease. That was hard. 

    “We decided to help him in 2010. We put the band back together with the high school brothers- Joseph Williams, Steve Porcaro, myself, and David Paich. We did a tour, and it was really a lot of fun. It was like the band had been reincarnated, and Joseph came back so strong as a singer. He didn’t go on the road and burn his voice out. He was doing television and film for twenty years as a composer along with a few solo albums here and there. But when he came back to the stage, his voice was incredibly strong, and it just kept getting stronger. We did a couple summer tours to help Mike, and we all have bills to pay so everybody wins. 

    “When we decided to do the 35th anniversary DVD, we found out that one of our ex-managers had signed something saying if we ever do anything, we have to deliver a studio album. At first, we sort of fought that, but our lawyers said ‘Look, you should make the freakin’ record.’ 

    “So we all looked at each other and said, ‘If we’re going to do this, we gotta do a really good one. We can’t just phone it in and make this a fulfillment of an obligation.’ 

    “We figured we owed it to the people who have been supporting us for forty years, so we need to come up with something really good. It’s been ten years since we sat down to write a record, so we dug deep. We decided if we were going to do this, we were going to go for it, really go for it. We wanted to dispel the myth that the album is dead, and old guys can’t write music. We said, ‘f*** that- we’re gonna go for it.’ 

    “We spent ten months in the studio making this record. What you hear is the result of blood, sweat, soul, tears, laughter, pain, screaming, arguing, hugging, and working. To me, I figure it’s the best version of the band to be in 2015. We have a lot of old friends back- Lenny Castro, a percussionist and workaholic. David Hungate is back after 33 years, and he’s going to tour with us. It’s an exciting time for us. The DVD went #1 all over the world, and that was a big surprise. 

    “The world is looking at us differently. We’re the classic rock band that hasn’t done every summer in eight configurations. The band is playing better than they ever have, so we are sort of a surprise wild card at this point. There are a lot of great bands out there making the circuit, but it’s the same eight guys in various configurations. We kinda came out of nowhere last year in the U.S.”

    Then, as a little tease, Luke said, “There’s a big surprise which I can’t tell you about yet- I’d like to, but I can’t. We’re going to be touring with somebody really cool, and

         

    Photo by Heather Porcaro

    it’s not anybody obvious at all. The U.S. tour starts in August/September, but we’re doing two months in Europe. Those gigs are selling out- 10,000 seaters are selling out months in advance without getting the record out yet! The UK is going clean, and it was really a surprise to hear Holland with 10,000 seats gone already. We’re co-headlining Sweden Rock with Def Leppard and a bunch of people. We’re doing a bunch of other gigs and headlining other festivals with 35,000 people, so it’s a very exciting time for us right now when a lot of people had maybe written us off. We’re back strong. Everyone is super healthy and focused, and we’re going to prove everybody wrong about the idea that these old guys have nothing new to give. I don’t believe in that, you know?”

    I was a guest of Luke’s at the band’s Atlanta show last year that included Michael McDonald. I mentioned that the pairing of McDonald with TOTO was a masterful pairing.

    “Well, Michael’s part of our family. We go way back. Michael was in Steely Dan with Jeff when I was still in high school. At one point, Michael was actually considered to be the lead singer of Toto, but he had just joined The Doobie Brothers. I worked on his first solo album, played on ‘I Keep Forgettin’’ and all that stuff. He sang on ‘I’ll Be Over You’, so we’ve always been friends. At that time we had the same manager, so that didn’t work out. But Michael and all of us have stayed dear friends and always will. That was a great, special tour for us, and it opened up a lot of doors that were closed for a long time. 

    “Now we’re doing something even wilder and bigger. The U.S. is starting to catch up, and that’s always been an Achilles heel to us. Now the doors are opening that were closed for so long, because we just had poor management and a poor view of us. Our record company wasn’t behind us. It was an uphill battle which all of the sudden seems to have been broken down after persistence and a lot of years… a lot of not taking no for an answer. Like, ‘F*** you, I don’t believe that this is no!’ Now we’re sitting in the situation to be able to do what we’ve always wanted to do in front of the people of our own country as well as the rest of the world.”

    I asked Luke what made this album different for him as compared with the previous thirteen.

    “First off, it’s been ten years since we’ve made any new music. I’m back with Steve Porcaro and Joseph Williams- we haven’t made a record since 1987. And yet, we came to this with a fresh attitude, like ‘We’re going to try to nail this.’ I’m back with my high school friends again, and everybody’s inspired and healthy. It’s a lot of fun, and I think we did something good. Now it’s up to God and the world to see how this all turns out. So far, so good.”

    What surprises on the album can Toto fans expect?

    “Is anything a surprise anymore? We live in this world where people are filming your every move with an iPhone camera. Their opinions are on the internet whether good or bad. 

    “Anyways, we’ve got a couple hundred songs we can grab to play outside of hits with all these records we’ve made. David Hungate’s back. Lenny Castro’s back on the road with us along with Steve, me, Dave, and Joe. We’ve got a killer band to bring on the road, and we’re going to perform this new stuff. We’re going to play a lot of the old stuff we haven’t been able to play. It’s just a really exciting time for us.”

    As for which song from “XIV” he would point to as the “calling card” for the whole album, Luke said:

    “I think my favorite track that we have ever recorded is a song called ‘Great Expectations’ which is written by Dave, Joe, and I. It’s an epic little piece. It’s really what I always imagined the band to sound like. Obviously, the hits have been really good. I can’t deny any of that, and we’ll play them for you- I promise! But this one has a little bit more depth to it. It hearkens back to our love for Seventies prog stuff like Yes and Pink Floyd with an odd twist to it. There’s three lead singers on it- Dave, me, and Joe. Everybody gets to shine on it. It’s a great calling card for where we are in 2015.”

    Is there a story behind the album cover?

    “Heather Porcaro, Steve’s oldest daughter, and her team put the whole art package together. We wanted to bring back the four in a different way. The XIV is interesting, because it’s a Roman numeral. It’s also a multiple of seven which is a reference to Joseph and The Seventh One album. It also has four from the Toto IV album. 

    “We were sitting around throwing ideas out, and Heather and her team came up with this great thing. We thought, ‘Wow, that’s really cool!’ The last thing we wanted to do was put hearts, skulls, angels, typical artwork. It’s so cliché. They came up with something darker and more mature. It’s new, but it’s old. Is this in China? Is this in LA? Where is this photo, this place? We ended up loving what she did with that, and it keeps it in the family as well. I’m really proud of her. We’ve been getting a lot of love on that.

    “She did this little video piece, too. We didn’t want to do a video. We’re not going to do MTV videos- there’s no budget for that. So we asked, ‘Can you put something together for this?’ She was out on the road with us filming stuff, and she just threw that together in an afternoon. She’s a very creative person, and I love keeping stuff in the family. I like to use the people around us. They care, and they’ve grown up with it and been a part of it. It means something to them. It’s not just hiring an art guy and saying, ‘Here, make something for us.’”

    Luke also shared some info about the guitar gear he used in the making of the album.

    “My big guitar is my Music Man, my L3. I do use a couple of the other versions. I use the Bogner amp, but I also use the Kemper Profiling amp which some of the weird, clean sounds came from that.  C.J. Vanston , our co-producer, really had a lot to do with putting this whole thing together. I gotta give him some love. C.J. worked real hard on this. Sometimes he’d just grab my guitar chord and plug it into his box that goes into the computer, and we’d just kinda scroll through to find some weird sound that worked. I kept an open mind and said, ‘I’ll try anything you guys want!’ Sometimes the sound inspired a different idea, a different part. 

    “It was like putting five bulls in a pen with one cow. We’re all very strong personalities, so we needed somebody to referee that. CJ Vanston was that guy. In the end, we all kept an open mind to try new and interesting things, and that’s what came out. I use Yamaha acoustic guitars, which are great.”

    What’s up after the Toto tour?

    “I can’t predict where I’m going to be in two years. I hope I’m still talking to you on the phone, healthy and happy and raving about the great success we have. That’s where I’m focused right now. In a couple years, who knows? Maybe I’ll do a solo record. Maybe I’ll take a vacation. I’ve got little kids I’d like to spend a little time with. This is what I do for a living. I’ve been doing it for forty years of my life. I don’t see anything changing other than just creating new music. 

    “I’m loving being on the Ringo tour. I just did this thing with Larry Carlton, and there will be a DVD out on that. That happened literally two weeks ago. That’s a different side of things, and I might do a couple live gigs with him if we can squeeze it in somewhere. I’m always trying to reinvent the wheel and doing fresh things.”

    Photo by Heather Porcaro

         

    Wrapping up our chat, I asked Luke how he would summarize his life right now.

    “I’ve had an interesting life, man. The dream came true. What can I say? 

    When I was a little kid, I saw The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show. And here I stand, in a hotel room working with Ringo. Last year, I did the 50th anniversary Beatles show with Paul and Ringo. I’m standing there right before we go on stage looking at them. They played ‘A Hard Day’s Night’, and there was a certain realization I had. When I was a little kid, if you told me that fifty years later I’d be standing here with these guys… and all these things that have happened in my career… just the records and the success that we’ve had. All the sessions and all the great artists I’ve had the chance to work with. I’ve got four great kids. I’ve had a couple great wives. I’ve met a lot of beautiful girls in my life. I’ve had a million laughs. Partied like a f***ing rock star, but I don’t do that anymore. I’ve had a very interesting life. 

    “There are a few things I’d go back and change. I never wanted to hurt anybody’s feelings. I should have never done any drugs of any kind, but ask anybody who’s been through that, and they’ll tell you the same thing. It was a weird, wacky time we all went through. I would save my money a little differently. But I’ve got nothing to complain about. I’m healthy, I’m happy, I’ve lived the dream. I’m very grateful to the people who’ve supported me and the band through the years. I’m sorry for a few things that went wrong, and I lost my way there for a minute. But when you’ve lived the life I have, it’s not uncommon. 

    “I’ve been given a great gift, and I’m very, very grateful for it - probably more so now than I’ve ever been. Thank you for life. It’s like that movie, ‘Defending Your Life’, where you have to sit and watch all the rough spots. I hope God has a great sense of humor.”

    Catch the latest on all things TOTO here and read the Boomerocity review of TOTO XIV here.

  • Welcome 2 My Nightmare

    welcome2mynightmarecoverWelcome 2 My Nightmare
    Alice Cooper
    Label: Universal Music Enterprises
    Reviewed: October, 2011

    I remember when Welcome To My Nightmare came out back in 1977 (I’ll refer to it from here on out as “#1”). A die-hard Alice Cooper fan, on the day it was released, I ran down to my favorite record store and plopped down my $3.99 (plus tax, of course), raced back home, unwrapped the vinyl disc and promptly dropped it on my stereo’s turntable to let the fun begin.

    Brilliant lyrics, amazing melodies and instrumentation and, as an extra added bonus, incredible, scary oratory by Vincent Price, the album intrigued me with each and every play.

    The funny thing is, 30-something years later, I did the same thing with the release of the sequel, Welcome 2 My Nightmare. I could also say the same exact thing about this album that I did about #1 except that I would be selling this new CD short. It’s nothing short of brilliant.

    Before Alice Cooper’s induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I used to say that he was the most unappreciated, brilliant songwriter on the planet. Now that the Hall has recognized him, I can’t make that statement quite so forcibly but it can still be made.

    Nightmare starts out with the mesmerizing, brilliantly written Boomerocity favorite, I Am Made of You. I have worn this song out! Laced with some of the same creepy piano lines as #1, it crescendo’s into power anthem that is sure to be a crowd-pleaser.

    Caffeine follows and offers a straight-forward rock ‘n roller in the spirit of Cold Ethyl from #1 and segues into the short but oh-so-sweet, The Nightmare Returns, which is then broadsided by the heavy duty, Under My Wheels-esque, A Runaway Train. Bringing back former band mates, Neal Smith, Michael Bruce and Dennis Dunaway (as well as on I’ll Bite Your Face Off as well as on When Hell Comes Home), Coop also adds a little surprise guitar work in the person of Vince Gill. Yes! Vince Gill! Vince lays down some great rock and roll on this tune. Who knew? Vince also lays down some great guitar work on the funny-loving – in not macabre – I Gotta Get Outta Here.

    The instrumental, The Underture, which floods the listener with all sorts of musical images from #1. Intricate melodies and rich orchestration laced with great guitar work make this tune another Boomerocity favorite.

    The album includes four bonus tracks: Under The Bed and live versions of Poison (the audience sings along with Alice through the entire song. Amazing!), No More Mr. Nice Guy and The Black Widow (complete with Vincent Price’s scary little speech).

    My only question really doesn’t involve this album but Alice’s career: When the heck is someone like Wes Craven going to place Alice in a movie about his character’s life? I mean, what could be a more humorously horrifying movie than that?

    But I digress.

    Welcome 2 My Nightmare is a great, fun album that will bring back lots of memories to long time Alice Cooper fans as well as give yet more evidence to Coop’s amazing songwriting talent. You’re really going to love it . . . to death . . .

Featured Photo

Jim Keltner.Broken Glass DW

Our Featured Photo by Boomerocity friend and famed rock photographer, Rob Shanahan (robshanahan.com), is is a bit different from past featured photos. 

 

 

The Boomerocity Interview Vault

Interviews

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