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Kris Bell

Posted January, 2012

krisbell01Some people think that rock and roll is dead.  Judging by some of the new music being released by certain labels and artists, I might be inclined to agree with some of those dire statements.

However, as evidenced by the many interviews and reviews that I’ve written on this and other publications will attest, I am not quite ready to pronounce a time of death for the rock genre.  There’s just too many great artists who ARE rockin’ to declare rock dead.  They’re just not being recognized to the level that rock once was.

That is what Boomerocity is here for.

To that point, I was recently introduced to a rocker who has rock and roll oozing out of every little pore of his body.  His name is Kris Bell. Remember the name and buy his work because this guy will be around, rockin’ us, for a very long time to come.

A little background on Kris:

Kris Bell was born and raised in San Diego, California.  He began playing guitar at the age of seven and, at the age of thirteen, wrote his first song.  He honed his guitar chops playing all over SoCal and developing a name for himself as a pretty darn good axe handler.

In 2005, Kris took the big step of packing up and moving to the great city of Nashville, Tennessee.  Nashville is a pretty tight town, musicians-wise, and can be kind of tough to elbow your way in to good gigs.  However, it didn’t take Kris long to land the Lead Guitarist slot for Bo Bice.

After a couple of years rockin’ the world with Bice, Bell took his next huge career step and launched his solo career, introducing his brand of “American Rock” to rockers like us all over the country.  Already, Kris has the dubious distinction of having already shared stages with some pretty big names.  Folks like Hank Williams, Jr., Lynyrd Skynyrd, 3 Doors Down, and Blackfoot, to name just a few.

Kris gave me a shout recently from his Nashville area home to tell me what he’s been up to and what’s on his radar in the future.  We first started chatting about the new album he’s working on.

“It’s going really well!  I’ve been in the studio with Geoff Koval from Wilderside Studios.  He’s a good friend of mine. He co-produced the first record that I put out last year, Turn It On, Turn It Up. So, we’re back for round two this time.  Recently, Wilderside Studios moved into The Castle Studios in Franklin (Tennessee) so we’ve been taking advantage of a world class studio without having to break the bank to pay for it. It’s just going really well.  Geoff just – we just click!  He’s a rock guy. He knows what I want even before I open my mouth.  It’s really, really, really an exciting, fun and creative environment to be in. I think the band and I are laying down our best stuff right now.”

Regarding when this work will be made available, Bell adds, “We’re going to release an EP of it in the spring, with more songs to come later on in the year. But we’ll have a good seven songs finished by March and we’re probably going to release a single within the next month or so – either by the end of this month or by mid-February we’ll have our first single out.

“Like I said, the album’s coming along really well. The music’s a little more aggressive – a little bit heavier edge but still that ‘American Rock’ style that I was doing on the last record. We’ll have our ‘peaks and valleys’ and our dynamics in songs are what I really like to emphasize – great melodic hooks and melodic guitar solos. You know, just good, straight ahead rock n’ roll!”

As you heard Kris mention, his last album, Turn It On, Turn It Up, is straight forward rock and roll.   I would add the word “great” before the word “straight” because, in my opinion, it’s that good (catch the Boomerocity review of it here).  I asked Kris what the response has been to the record and to its tunes by live audiences.

“Just really positive stuff. Luckily, I had a pretty dedicated fan base when I went into to record it and we’ve been adding to that base. It comes in waves. Sometimes you get a lot of fans – sometimes you get them trickling in.  The more we play out and the more the people are hearing the newer stuff – even the people hearing Turn It On, Turn It Up material for the first time – really seem to be attracted to it and supportive of it. It (the audience) seems to be missing the style of rock that WE play – it’s been missing in mainstream music and people are hungry for it again, which is a good thing.”

That comment resonated with me and prompted me to ask {mprestriction ids="*"}Bell to expound on that comment a little bit more.

“Once MTV changed formats and, then, MTV2 went that same way and VH1 followed – they’re all owned by the same company – it really did a number on the rock genre itself – classic rock, current rock – it all changed. The videos were a mainstream marketing tool in the 80’s, 90’s and even in the early 2000’s.  But it just isn’t that way anymore. So, now, rock is almost an underground kind of thing. There’s definitely still rock out there, but now it’s mixed with pop. Pop and rock are kind of together now. You’re hearing the Foo Fighters on the radio next to Lady Gaga. It’s a little frustrating and a little confusing.

“But, when people come out to see us for the first time, they’re impressed by us. More and more people come up to me and say, ‘Man! You’re just straight ahead rock ‘n roll! You just rock!’  And that’s what’s cool to hear: People being excited and, like, ‘Oh my god! I just saw a real rock band – straight up, real rock band!’  Like I said before, it’s missing nowadays. There’s not a lot of bands out there that are doing it. There’s a lot of bands that are using loops AND weird effects or too heavy or too light, but there’s just not that straight ahead, American Rock genre that was pretty dominant back in the day. Now, it’s almost like a dying breed.” But bands like us, our friends Blackwater James, The Cold Stares and Sexstone are working hard to get it back into the ears of hungry listeners.

We also discussed the related matter of venue availability.

“It’s difficult. There’re so many acts and so many different artists and bands that are trying to get into the same venues and compete for the same venues – and they’re not competing directly against each other on purpose but everyone wants the good time slots, the great day and the great bill. It’s really difficult now more than ever because, for one, the economy’s down so talent buyers don’t want to pay bands what a lot of bands think they should be paid. It’s harder to get guarantee’s nowadays versus just ‘door’ deals – especially if you’re just coming into a newer market that you haven’t played much, you gotta sacrifice. You’ve gotta bite the bullet and play some shows for free or for a real limited budget in order to break in there and get into the clubs that you’re really trying to get into - playing gigs on Thursday nights at midnight or Tuesdays or whatnot.

“We still do that today. We’re trying to break into different markets – we played a gig in Birmingham last month and it was a Tuesday night and we went on at 12:30 that night. It’s just one of those things we had to do because we knew we wanted to try and break into that market and, luckily for us, the sound guy really liked us and put a mention into the booking agent to have us back. Sometimes, even when it’s a slow night and really late, you never know who’s going to be there so you’ve always got to do your best.”

I listened to Turn It On, Turn It Up countless times before speaking with Kris and felt pretty sure that I could pick out his musical influences.  However, just in case I was mistaken, I asked Kris tell me who those influences were and are.  Without a nanosecond of hesitation, he replied:

“Lynyrd Skynyrd, first and foremost was probably the biggest influence on me and my playing. But there’s a ton. Early on when I first started playing guitar, I only played classical guitar for the first five years and I started when I was seven. I was playing Bach and Beethoven and stuff like that for awhile. Then, I got the itch to progress and I bought an electric guitar and I really got into Chuck Berry, Ritchie Valens, and the Beach Boys, The Ventures were huge. I learned pretty much every single Ventures song. Pipeline and Walk, Don’t Run. I just loved that stuff – old 50’s and 60’s music that I would sit and listen to and just play over and over after school.

“It just kept progressing to a lot of blues like Robert Johnson, who was a huge influence, and Muddy Waters, Lightning Hopkins, Hubert Sumlin and B.B. King – all of those old blues greats - and, then, Stevie Ray Vaughn.

“Then, I started diving into the dynamics of learning guitar solos and crafting guitar solos. It was Stevie, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Eric Clapton, the Allman Brothers, Robin Trower – all those great guitar players – and, obviously, Jimmy Page and Hendrix. I was just trying to grab and take from them whatever I could and take whatever I could. Those core artists really helped craft my sound and style of playing growing up.

“But I was also influenced by the current music of that day, too. I listened to a lot of Soundgarden and I listened to a lot of Pearl Jam. Metallica was a big thing for me. So, it was kind of cross genres throughout the ages of music. There wasn’t anything that I was directly ‘stuck’ to versus something that I would never listen to.

“I was in bands growing up. I was in a band all through high school and after high school. I was in a pretty serious band for 12 years in San Diego called ‘Fifth’ and we did a lot of great things.  We were all on the same musical level so influenced each other a lot, as well.”

I love all of Kris’s Turn It On, Turn It Up CD but there were two songs in particular that really commanded my attention. First and foremost, Destined caught me completely off guard. I thought it was about inattentiveness in the child/parent relationship but it’s something quite different.  I asked Kris to tell me the back story on that song.

“Yeah, that was a tough one. I mean, it wasn’t like a tough song for me to write. I think it’s more of a tough song to play because I’m so attached to that song. It’s probably the most personal song that I’ve written.  My father passed away in ’98 from a botched surgery. They were trying to take out a tumor behind his tonsils and they sliced his carotid artery and they gave him a stroke. There was three days there when he was in the hospital and they had to take him off of life support. After that, my mom, she was distraught, obviously. She was broken hearted. She moved from San Diego up to Temecula (California) and spent a few years up there. She passed away on New Year’s Eve of 2006 due to cancer. She lost her battle with ovarian cancer. It was a really quick thing. She was diagnosed in October of 2006 and she passed away on December 31st. So, yeah, it was really quick.

“Luckily, I was out there. I was off the road. I had toured with Bo Bice in 2006. I came off the road in October and I went in November, basically, right out to Temecula and I spent a month and a half out there with her. Along with my brother and sister, we were there.

“The dust kind of settled and I came back home and I decided to go into the studio and do my own thing. That song wasn’t even written. I was missing my parents and having my mom pass away brought up a lot of the feelings that I had when my father died, as well. So, one day, I was sitting here, fiddling around on my guitar and one of my friends called and asked if I wanted to do a little acoustic show down in Destin, Florida, with him and some other artists. I was, like, ‘Yeah, that would be great!’  They were going to leave out the following weekend.

“After I hung up from talking with him, that chorus just came. I have a picture of my parents in my studio. So, I was sitting there looking at them and I was like, ‘I’m destined’. I started singing the melody a little bit. Literally, I open my lyric book and I wrote that whole song in real time. So, even at the end in the last verse where it says, ‘I guess I should be going, I’ve got to pick him up from school’, I was really that!  I had to leave and go pick Logan up from school.

“So, yeah, it was all these things that I wanted to say to my parents that I never really had said or got the chance to say. Having a son of my own, I guess that I understood more what they were trying to show me and teach me growing up now that I have a son and I’m trying to do the same thing; trying to keep their memory alive through me for him. He never knew my father and he was too young to remember my mom. But that song, I felt, would be part of him, as well. That’s why I put him on the track. It’s something, no matter what, will always be there for me and for him when he gets older. He asks me a little bit about my parents now – grandma and grandpa – and I tell him they’re in Heaven. He knows who they are but he doesn’t quite understand everything – the whole back story of what happened. That was the inspiration for that – where that song came from.

“We don’t play that live too much anymore but I do it during my acoustic shows. But we would play that out and a lot of the fans – by the time I was done with that song – they would be in tears. One of my good friends, Mr. Ray LeGrand – he’s a metal singer. He sings for a progressive metal band called Oblivion Myth. He’s a big dude from New York. He’s not someone you want to mess with, you know what I mean?  He’s a big, tough guy. He sent me a message after he listened to that song the first time on his way to work and he’s, like, ‘Thanks a lot, man! I walked into work with tears in my eyes! You took me completely by surprise with that song!’

“That’s a situation where anyone who’s lost their parents or a loved one, for that matter, can relate to that message in that song. I’m saying, ‘I miss you and I wish you were here’ but, at the same time, it’s a message of hope and keeping their love alive and keeping their memory alive and passing it along for generations to come.”

I asked Bell to tell me the story behind another song that really piqued my interest, Losing Faith. The lyrics portray a crisis of faith and hope that I knew that there had to be a compelling story behind it.

“I wrote that for a friend of my brother. Her name was Bonnie. She was a really good friend of my brother back in high school and after high school. She had gone through some really difficult times with her boyfriend. He was kind of a bad seed type of guy. He was abusing her verbally and domestically. They had two kids. After a year or two of dealing with him, she was able to get out of the relationship and move back in with her parents and took the kids. She was a beautiful girl and really sweet. Always had a smile on her face no matter what was going on.

“One night, she went on a blind date with a boy and got on the back of his motorcycle. They were just driving down the street to go to 7-11. They were up in L.A.  A car pulled out and they t-boned it. She was catapulted right over the car and she died at the scene. It was the day before Easter.  That’s why I referred to the fact that she didn’t return home to celebrate Easter with her kids. She died Easter Eve.  My brother, he was so torn and so distraught. They were friends growing up. She was someone in our house quite a bit.

“I didn’t want to be so direct that I was blatantly using her name. That’s where the whole reference to faith had come in. There’s a double meaning to it. Faith could be the name of a person as well as you’re losing your faith in your belief in God, higher power or whatever.  It’s more of a tribute to her and to my brother, as well. I can’t play that song without thinking of her, remembering her face the last time I saw her. It’s been years now since she passed away.  It’s kind of like Destined where her memory lives on with that song.

“I’ve had a lot of people send me Facebook messages or direct messages off of my website, saying, ‘Losing Faith saved my life and helped me get through the most dark time in my life’.  Stuff like that is what it’s all about. If I can help someone or give someone the inspiration to go on just by listening to my music, then I’ve done my job as a songwriter.”

While Bell’s career is relatively short compared to some artists, I knew that he’s jammed with some very notable names in music.  I asked him who some of those folks are and who he has on his bucket list to jam with.

“Probably the biggest name I’ve played with – and was a dream come true – was Lynyrd Skynyrd. I got to play with Lynyrd Skynyrd in Atlantic City at the Trump Taj Mahal Hotel and Casino in the arena there. It was a ‘VH1 Classics Decades of Rock’ taping back in 2006 when I was playing with Bo. The way it worked out, he (Bo) was on the bill to play. It was Lynyrd Skynyrd, Bo Bice, 3 Doors Down and Hank, Jr.  It was a huge, awesome, big deal that they did.

“It was really like a tribute to Skynyrd. Skynyrd would come out and play then 3 Doors Down would play a few songs they had out. Then they would play a Skynyrd song. Bo came out with Skynyrd and played a few Skynyrd songs and one of his songs, The Real Thing.  Every time that Bo got to come out, I was invited out, as well. Bo worked it out to where I could get up there and play.

“So, I met the guys at sound check two days before. We jammed through a bunch of Skynyrd stuff. I got to hang out with Rossington, Ean Evans and the whole band. It was an amazing, amazing couple of days. The next night, we had the concert. Being up there on the stage standing in between Gary Rossington and Ean Evans and looking over at Rickey Medlocke and watching Johnny Van Zant and Bo go back and forth on vocals in front of 16,000 people in a sold out arena, knowing that it was going to be on TV in, literally, a week,  was just amazing. It’s something that I will never forget!

“And, then, coming off the road and turning on VH1 Classic and seeing it played back – it was literally on the VH1 Classic rotation every other day for almost six months!  It was always on. It was so cool – the coolest thing to go, ‘Wow! I actually did that!’

“I remember sitting in my room learning how to play Free Bird over and over, listening to that song and playing along with and going, ‘One day, I’m going to play on stage with those guys’ and it happened. It was really an amazing thing.  All those guys in the band are so cool – down-to-earth, regular people. Having Billy Powell, who is one of the greatest piano players ever, coming down the hall and telling me what a great guitar player I am – you can’t ask for anything more than that!

“Other than that, I got the opportunity to front the legendary rock band, Blackfoot, about a year and a half ago. My buddy, Mike Estes, he fronts that band and there was a show in Iowa that he couldn’t do. He had a scheduling conflict so he called me up and was, like, ‘Man, can you fill in for me and do this show?’ and I’m like, ‘You mean you want me to be the front guy for Blackfoot?”  I was really hesitant. ‘I don’t know, man. We’re talking about Blackfoot! I haven’t played those songs in awhile. I don’t want to screw up your gig.’  He’s like, ‘Oh, you’ll be fine! I wouldn’t ask anyone else. I know you can do it.”

“So, I drove down to Florida and I met Greg T. Walker and Charlie Hargrett – the last two founding members of Blackfoot – and I rehearsed with them for a week. I knew the whole set like the back of my hand. They were blown away that I came in there like that. We flew to Iowa a week after that and played the gig. There were 1500 people there. We opened up for Molly Hatchet – it was a double-bill. It was just a huge, awesome thing to be up  there for an hour and a half, playing Blackfoot tunes and being the front guy singing all the songs. I got to be Rickey Medlocke and Mike Estes for a night. It was pretty awesome!”

And, as for whom he would still like to jam with, Kris says, “I would say Clapton. Eric Clapton would be another one of those huge dreams that I’ve always had. He’s been such a huge influence. If you look through his career at all the things that he’s done, he really has stood the test of time since before I was born – as a guitar player, as a songwriter, as a singer, as a performer – he’s the full package. He can still sell out arenas now! I saw him last year when he came through Nashville and it was still an amazing show!  So, to have the opportunity to trade licks with him would be just be a huge, huge dream come true.”

I shifted to the subject of guitars and asked Kris how many guitars he owns and if there was a guitar that he considered to be the “Holy Grail”.

“I have about 22 guitars total but I don’t play all of them. Some are put up. Some are broken and need to be fixed. Out of the ones that I do play, I have about 8 or 10 that are in and out of the rotation – acoustics and electrics. I have five Les Pauls, three Strats, a Tele, a Taylor jumbo acoustic, a Washburn electric acoustic, a couple of classicals and I’ve got a lap steel. I’ve got a lot of stuff going on around here! I’m predominantly a Les Paul guy but, depending on how our set is tailored, I break out the Strat quite a lot.

“But most of the time for our original stuff – our big rock stuff – I’m playing a Les Paul. The one that I play the most is kind of a tandem between my Class 5 Les Paul – my blue one – and then I have a honey burst Classic re-issue that’s really been my main axe ever since I’ve been 22 years old. Lately, I have this flame-top Les Paul Studio that I just put P 90 pickups in that has completely blown me away. I’ve taken that out a lot.

“But, as far as Holy Grail of guitars goes, I don’t really have one. I just love guitars. Every time I go into a guitar store, I could that guitar or that one and most of the time they’re either a Les Paul or a Strat. Most of my stuff is either Gibson or Fender. My wife’s like, ‘Do you really need another Les Paul?’ I definitely not need another Les Paul but I would really love to have a Silverburst Les Paul but I definitely don’t need one” Kris concludes with a laugh.

As for as what all Kris Bell has planned for 2012 and beyond, he says, “This year we’re going to be releasing our new record. We really want to focus on expanding our fan base and getting our music out to more people, hit new markets, target different markets like Atlanta, Austin, Memphis – some major cities where we can travel to and try to capitalize on our type of sound and where we think we’ll go over well.

“In five years I want to be selling out arenas and selling downloads. I want to be a viable artist in music. I want to be able to support my family through doing what I love. That’s the main thing.”

If you could make any kind of CD without any concern of its marketability, what kind of CD would that that be?

In the spirit of his song, Destined, I asked Kris how he hopes to be remembered and what his legacy will hopefully be after his life is over.  I loved his response.

“I think, first and foremost, a great dad for my kids – a great father, a great husband. To those who don’t know me personally, I’d like to be remembered for my music – my songwriting and that I was able inspire people or help people or make people feel what I feel when I write a song.  But, like I said, just a good person, a hard worker; a good father and a good husband.”

At the end of the day, those kinds of goals should be what all of us strive for in our lives.

You’ll want to keep up with all things “Bell” by going to www.krisbellmusic.com.  While you’re there, you can see where Kris and his band will be appearing, get the latest updates on his projects and be able to purchase some great Kris Bell merchandise.  You’ll definitely want to order or download Turn It On, Turn It Up by clicking on the icon on this page. 

Frankie Banali

Posted April, 2011

Banali1Photo by Rob ShanahanWhen I feel particularly ornery, I like to tease the last wave of the Baby Boomer generation – specifically, those born in the first half of the sixties –  that the only good music was made in the 70’s.  Of course, our older brothers and sisters say, ‘Au, contraire!  The only great music came from the sixties!”

Of course, every decade in the last 70+ years produced some great, memorable, even iconic music that still enjoys a following today.  My good-natured teasing aside, the eighties put out some pretty darn good music.  As the eighties charged full speed ahead, heavy metal enjoyed a very dedicated fan base.

From that genre, one of the flagship bands that became a symbol of those times was Quiet Riot.  Their breakout hit, a cover of Slade’s hit, Cum On Feel The Noize, made it to the number five spot on Billboard.  The album, Metal Health, that contained the song was the first heavy metal album U.S. heavy metal band to simultaneously reach number one AND have a top five song on the charts within the same week.  Along with Noize, the title cut from the album has served as the bands most identified tunes that still serve them well today.

Like many bands, Quiet Riot experienced the dramatic, gut wrenching ups and downs of the rock and roll business.  The most tragic event of their ride was the pre-mature 2007 death of the bands iconic singer and co-founder, Kevin DuBrow.  Fans feared that the band was over.  Last year brought the welcome news to Quiet Riot fans that the band was back, alive and banging their heads with more verve and vigor than ever.

Through a mutual friend, noted rock photographer, Rob Shanahan, I was introduced to the band’s current leader, co-founder and drummer extraordinaire, Frankie Banali, who graciously consented to a phone interview recently.

Quiet Riot fans have, obviously, read everything there is to read about the band during its history.  With over 30 years of experience and perspective of the band, I started off by asking Banali how he would now describe and define Quiet Band.

As would be demonstrated throughout the phone call, he answered with well-thought out answers.  “I think one of the key elements of this strange trip that we’ve been on – this Quiet Riot journey – has been the fact that, for whatever reason, we were fortunate enough to have been at the right place at the right time when the Metal Health record came out in 1983.

“From that, we culled two significant songs, Cum On Feel The Noize, which is a Slade song that we re-did.  But, also equally as important, is the song, Metal Health (Bang Your Head).  That’s become almost the key song for the band - so much so that it’s the last song of our set.  I think for the genre, those two songs sort of became the soundtrack for that generation.”

{mprestriction ids="*"}When I asked it the song was strong via downloads, he said, “Yeah, if illegal downloads are any indication, then Quiet Riot is hugely popular.  But it is what it is. It’s (illegal downloads) so big that, unless the government really cared about it and put some kind of law in place, it’s going to continue. It’s hard to say what’s going to happen. But, I’m a half-full-glass kind of guy so, it is what it is.”

After Kevin DuBrow’s passing, Banali basically stated that Quiet Riot couldn’t go on without him at the mic.  Later, with DuBrow’s mom’s blessing, he reformed the band in 2010.  I asked Frankie if the regrouping with former band mates Alex Grossi on guitar andChuck Wright on bass and the Dubrow-inspired vocal work provided by new lead singer, Mark Huff, has gone as anticipated.

“The first thing that I want to make clear is that, by no stretch of the imagination do I ignore the statement I made in January of 2008 – two months after Kevin passed away.  That is exactly how I felt about the situation. It was an honest and genuine statement. Literally, for the first year after Kevin passed away, I didn’t even pick up a pair of sticks.  I did nothing in music whatsoever. I just didn’t want to because, you have to understand that, not only was I in a band with Kevin throughout the entire history of the band from 1980 to date, but we were friends for 27 years.  So, that was a difficult thing.

“What has ensued in the last three years is that I have had time to put the loss in perspective.  With my grieving period and working on the Quiet Riot documentary, it forced me to really evaluate the history of the band and my participation in the history of the band. That really ignited the fire for me to want to do this again because, not only did I miss Kevin, I came to the realization that I missed this thing called Quiet Riot.

“And, yes, definitely, once I said to myself, ‘This is something that I want to pursue again.’, my first communication was with Kevin’s mom because we were very close. I, literally, verbatim, said to her if she was even remotely uncomfortable with the situation that it would end right there. I wouldn’t pursue it. She reminded me that, even at the gathering that we had – the day that we laid Kevin to rest – she had told me that I should continue Quiet Riot because Quiet Riot wasn’t just Kevin, Quiet Riot was Kevin and I because we were always the nucleus. We were the two that were in the band from the beginning to the end.  That was really my only consideration.

“I’ve taken, I think, a lot of unjust criticism for it. But, at the end of the day – I’ll be perfectly honest with you - the only person whose opinion really mattered to me in my reforming the band was Kevin’s mom.  That being said, the first people that I reached out to were Chuck Wright on bass and Alex Grossi on guitar which is the two players that were in the last version of Quiet Riot when Kevin was alive. It was Kevin’s favorite version and it was also the most stable, productive version that we had.  Nothing against any of the members in Quiet Riot from the past – and there have been many. Most people like to consider the so-called Metal Health line-up as the only Quiet Riot line-up.  There were so many musicians that came in and out of the band at different periods of time that my consideration was really for the last version of the band that Kevin and I were most happy with.

“The thing is, the people that aren’t involved in the situation – certain fans – definitely, some of the critics – don’t understand it. Rudy Sarzo and I have been friends since before Quiet Riot and we continue to be friends.  He has been very vocal in public about saying that he completely supports my continuing Quiet Riot and he’s not even a part of it. He has his own life and his own career. He has his own music that he’s working on. So, it’s not one of these things where I’m excluding this person or that person. Carlos Cavazo is in Ratt so it’s not like anybody is being excluded for any negative reason. They’re being excluded for all positive reasons.”

Before leaving the subject of DuBrow’s passing, I asked Banali if there have been any life lessons, perspectives or any sort of spiritual repercussions or revelations that he has learned or experienced from Kevin’s passing.

“Well, you know, I’ve got to tell you, because, when you’re in a band for as long and Kevin and I were in Quiet Riot together, most people in a band, after a period of time, don’t hang out together any more or don’t do anything together for no other reason than they’ve done it all and seen it all.  The thing that’s always been at the forefront for me is that Kevin and I always continued to always hang out on the road together. We didn’t in Los Angeles because I live in California and he moved to Las Vegas. But, when we were out on the road, we would fly to whatever city and then spend x amount of hours in a vehicle to wherever it is that we were going and we would still have lunch together. We would still have dinner together. And, if we had time off, we would go to wherever we wanted to go together.

Banali shared a recent reflection about his late band mate.  “I just got back yesterday from a run that we did. We did a date outside of Indianapolis and another one in Dayton.  And, so, I have my phone and it has GPS on it – something that we didn’t have when Kevin was alive. I programmed the thing to make sure that the routing I had was correct.  The little voice tells us, ‘Take a left at I-95’ or whatever it was and the first words out of my mouth were, ‘Kevin would have loved this.’  This happens a lot. We drove by a barbeque restaurant and Kevin loved barbeque. The first thing out of my mouth was, ‘If Kevin was here now, we would stop there and have barbeque for lunch.’”

With bitter-sweet comfort in his voice, Frank said, “So, yeah, he’s still around.”

We began talking about the current band line-up so I asked Frankie what the fan reaction has been, so far.

“The thing that I always took into account when I decided to move forward Quiet Riot that, obviously, could not include Kevin, I knew there were going to be, essentially, three factions. On the positive end of things, there were going to be the fans that were going to accept it wholeheartedly, no matter what. On the opposite end of the spectrum, there were going to be the fans and critics that would not want to accept it, no matter what. Then, square in the center was going to be the ‘show me’ faction who wanted to see if this was really viable.  Will this really sound like Quiet Riot? Is this really Quiet Riot?’

“What has happened is, strangely enough, we’re getting so many dates on the calendar, we get to the shows and right from the get-go, the fans have been with the band, which is surprising to me.  You still have to go out there and do a great job but I really thought that it was going to take two or three songs to get people to realize that this is the real deal.  So, from that perspective, it’s been more rewarding than I expected it to be at this early stage.”

Of all the questions and interest in Banali’s and Quiet Riot’s work, I wondered what would be the one thing that Frankie felt has been least covered and understood about the band’s work.

“In the past, I think one of the big misunderstandings – and I always defended Kevin while I didn’t always agree with many of the things that Kevin said or many of the things he did - I always supported the fact that it was his right to say it. A lot of people took a lot of the things he said as Kevin being a negative person, which he wasn’t. What Kevin was, he was acutely honest and that honesty got him in trouble. Where most musicians, if they were asked about a certain band or a certain song – even if they hated it – they would give the political correct answer to the situation. Whereas Kevin would tell you exactly what he thought. If he loved something, he would tell you and in minute detail why he loved it. If he hated it, he would tell you, in minute detail, why he hated it.

“And the really unfortunate thing about it is that most of the negative comments that Kevin may have said early on in the band’s career were exactly that: early on in the band’s career. But it took nearly 20 some odd years for people to sort of let it go. Kevin had let it go many years before that but even to the end, some critics were still criticizing him for things he said when he was much younger and two decades earlier. It’s interesting: people really love an underdog until the underdog becomes a big dog and then they want to run it over.”

I asked Frankie a range of questions that I try to ask music industry veterans: What similarities and differences do you see between now and when you and the band started out? What’s been the biggest POSITIVE change in the music industry since you started out?  What about the biggest negative change?

“When we started, we were really, really fortunate to have been in what I think would be considered the center of the world for rock which is Hollywood, California, in the late seventies and early eighties. Also, that new thing called ‘MTV’ had come along which, I think, was really instrumental in many bands’ careers because, all of a sudden, you had mass exposure but it was mass visual exposure. Up to that point, it was only really magazine articles and, maybe, the occasional newspaper article. But, that (MTV) had a huge impact on the industry and the music industry was thriving and alive whereas, now, none of that exists anymore.

“There is no record industry as we once knew it - neither major nor independent.  There is no MTV as we once knew it. MTV stood for ‘music television’ and, now, really, it stands for far less than ‘music television’.  Although, I will say VH1 Classic has really waved the flag for a lot of the bands of our genre. But there is no rock radio like there once was. DJ’s were independent to play whatever they wanted whereas, now, it’s become corporate and there are just a few national programmers that will program the radio stations that are owned by a handful of conglomerates.

“Kevin and I used to marvel at the fact that we would continue to put out records year in and year out and we’d be out on the road and we’d have morning show interviews to do. We’d bring in the new product and the DJ’s would go crazy about the new product but take it home because they couldn’t play it on the radio station because everything was ‘on the cart’.  It’s very, very challenging now for new bands to get anything done in the industry. And most of the bands that you see working today are working because they have marquee value from one or two decades ago.”

Like I’ve shared with others that I’ve interviewed, I share with Banali my belief that one of the big reasons that country music is still a thriving genre with an incredibly loyal fan base is due to the fact that there are two cable networks that actively run supporting music videos.  He agrees.

“Yeah, I completely agree with you on that, that the mentality for the country industry and the fans of country radio is completely and totally different than any other market. They’re still producing current videos which are still being played on their respective stations. The radio stations continue to play new country music. I don’t know if you’ve also looked at it from this point of view: if you look at a country artist and a country show, it is, essentially, what an 80’s rock show used to be. It’s still the big stages. It’s the big drum riser.  It’s the wall of lights – all the special effects.  If you take away the cowboy hats they’re dressing pretty much like the 80’s artists were dressing.   That is a very different world and a very different market that supports that artists and supports the music across the board.”

After sharing what he believes are the negative changes in the music business, Frankie addresses my “positive change” portion of my question.

“I can’t say that I’ve seen any at all. The advent of the CD when it came out and then the inevitable being able to record onto recordable CD’s; and then the internet, MP3’s and downloading has really taken its toll on the industry. It’s amazing, you have fans out there who are screaming, ‘Why aren’t bands putting out new music?’  Well, why put out the money to put out new music if some of these so-called fans are going to look for every possible way to download it for free?  I don’t know if they don’t realize or don’t understand or don’t care that the only way to really produce music is to earn a living doing it. And, if you take it down to the most basic structure, you have record labels – most of them – are not ‘artist friendly’. For them, it’s just a business. But, having said that, in the old days you would get a label to give you and advance and you went out and made your record with that advance and, if you had anything left over the band made some money. Then the records were sold and the record label would recoup their advance on the artist and the artist would start making royalties.

“Well, what has happened is not only is it the artists that are being hurt by the illegal downloads but it’s also the record labels. So, what happens is the record labels aren’t making any money because their product is being illegally downloaded; ‘trickle-down economy’ to the artists not making any money for the same reason (the labels tell them) ‘We can’t afford to give you an advance because we’re not going to recoup it.’

“Then, the artists has to go out and come up with their own money to produce a record, to manufacture it, put it out there and they, too, have no hope of ever recouping the money. So, it’s pretty much become a still-born industry.  There’s no label support for touring and you can break it down even further. You have all these bands that aren’t making a living off of their records so you have less tours going out and you have all these other bands who are vying for very few support spots.  They, in turn, keep dropping their guarantee down in the hopes of beating another bands guarantee to get on that tour and it deflates the industry even further from that perspective.”

Banali’s response to me isn’t a positive one when I asked him what he thought the solution to the music business’s problems were.

“I really don’t know that there is a solution. I think the problem with illegal downloads from the sites in Russia and Eastern Europe, some in Latin American and some in Asia – it’s so widespread. I mean, anybody who has a computer – a laptop – can pretty much illegally download anything. Just about everybody these days in economically diverse countries most people have computers. It’s almost impossible to police it so, as long as the product is going to continue to be downloaded illegally, there’s no source of revenue.

“I think that radio has changed to the point that you cannot get promotion for anything. Even Quiet Riot, when we go out on the road – even if I were to put out a new record tomorrow – I would still end up going to the local radio stations with the product and they still wouldn’t play it. And when they’re promoting the shows, they would be playing Cum On Feel The Noize and Bang Your Head. So, I don’t know if there’s a way out of this situation. From that perspective it’s really bad. Quiet Riot is fortunate in that we have a long history and we have marquee value which makes it possible to continue to tour. Most of the bands that you see touring are touring just for that reason – based on their past history more so than their current history.

“The policy that Kevin and I always had was that, regardless of what was going on in the music industry, regardless of what the trends were, regardless of how deflated the industry was, we were going to continue releasing records, which we did throughout our career. The last record we released when Kevin was alive was in 2006 was called Rehab which was a great record. It was probably the best reviewed record we had since Metal Health and I’m gratified that Kevin received a lot of praise for his vocals on that record.  So, if he had to leave us, at least he did knowing that people loved what he was still doing.

In wrapping up his answer, Frankie concludes, “So, I have every intention of going to the studio at some point and making a new record. I want to do it because it’s important to keep creating music and I want to do it because it’s part of the Quiet Riot legacy. But, I am not counting or depending on either label support to do it and I certainly can’t imagine that it’s not going to be illegally downloaded but it’s important for me to do. But, I’ll pick and choose when to do it and I’ll pick and choose how to do it because I’ll have to spend my own money to do it.”

Because of cases that I have heard about through friends, I suggest the very real possibility of a few widespread, well-publicized cases of viruses being spread via illegal MP3 downloads, in addition to continued label driven litigation, as creating a chilling effect on the problem and, thus, being one contributing solution.

“If that were to happen, it would be interesting. I don’t know if it would enough to really turn around the labels where they would actually want to sign new bands or want to sign former bands and give advances again. I also don’t know if that would really remedy the problem with radio because that’s also a huge problem.  You could release new music all day long but if you write quality songs and they’re recorded and produced properly and radio doesn’t play it, then you’re still in the situation of ‘if a tree falls in the forest and nobody hears it, did it make any noise?’, you know?

“The problem is huge. Unfortunately, it’s so multi-sided. Unless all of the problems are fixed then none of the problems are fixed.”

Our mutual friend, Rob Shanahan, told me prior to my call with him that Banali was working on a history of Quiet Riot and he tells me a little bit about what it’s all about.

“It’s a documentary.  People have wanted me to do a book for awhile but I’m so busy with the business of Quiet Riot. I’ve managed the band for the last 17 years. But, it’s a documentary beginning with the history of the band. It continues to evolve because the story continues to be written so it’s very difficult for me, at this juncture, to say how it’s going and where it’s going other than the fact that the amount of footage we have is monumental. Interviews are still going on. It’s a work in progress. Hopefully, it will be completed by the end of the year.”

 

In reviewing that treasure trove in the Quiet Riot archives, I asked Frankie what’s been the most memorable thing that’s happened in all his years of touring with the band.

“A couple of things stand out. For the band, I think the US Festival was probably the greatest, early experience we had because, all of a sudden, it put us in front of a huge audience that, up to that point, had only heard rumors about the band. So, that was monumental.

“Playing the L.A. Forum was monumental the first time we played it. Then, the second time we played it, we headlined. It was a big venue and our hometown. For me, personally, it was playing Madison Square Garden because I’m originally from New York. My history with Madison Square Garden goes to as early as me not remembering - when I was a baby and my parents taking me to the Ringling Brothers circus.  Then, when I got older, my dad used to take me to prize fighting boxing there.  I used to go see concerts there. I saw Led Zeppelin there. So, to actually play Madison Square Garden was huge – just HUGE!”

Is “the Garden” his most favorite venue to play?

“I think emotionally it was but I think, probably, the single greatest experience for the band at a venue was in 1983 when we were still an opening act. We were the darlings of the opening acts. We were opening for so many different major bands at the time. But, in 1983, when we were still an opening act, the band was becoming so huge on radio that we were offered – on a day off – to headline Market Square Arena (Indianapolis and, interestingly, the site of Elvis’ last concert before his death) and we had Nazareth opening up the show.  Quiet Riot sold out the place – over 15,000 people – while we were still an opening act for somebody else. That was our first real headlining show. That one stands out in my mind because it was unbelievable to know that over 15,000 people came to see the band. And, then, the next day I think that we were opening up for Iron Maiden.  It was interesting from that point of view.

“When the Tacoma Dome first opened, they booked AC/DC. I think that the Tacoma Dome was something like 23,000 (seats). The show was selling well but the sales hadn’t really gone over the top. We might have been opening up for ZZ Top at the time. I don’t clearly remember but we were on the east coast and they offered us the opening spot at the Tacoma Dome for AC/DC.  Our participation made it possible for the show to sell out, so that stands out in my mind, as well.”

 

If Frankie was a young musician just starting out, or coaching a young musician, starting out today, how would he enter the music business today, given what he knows now?

 

“Well, you have to be realistic. You have to look at the business the way it is now and not fall prey to the idea that you’ll put a really good looking band together and you’ll write some really, really good songs and you’re going to go out and get a really good record deal and then you’ll go out on the road and become rich and famous. The industry doesn’t work that way anymore.

“I think that it would be really important to start with the basics. Make sure that you know the material that you want to write and the type of band that you want to be. But you’ll also have to be prepared to have a lot of doors slammed in your face. There are a lot of doors that aren’t even there anymore!  You have to be prepared to go out there and put a band together and play clubs throughout. To me, it’s so sad that bands these days have to go out and literally pay to play at a venue where they can get the slots at a club if they buy a hundred discounted tickets from the clubs and sell them to their friends or through MySpace or Facebook.  That was something that simply did not happen when Quiet Riot started out. It’s really challenging.

“I wouldn’t discourage anyone from being a musician and putting a band together. I cannot imagine what my life would be like if I didn’t have music in it. It’s a huge part of my life. If music is a huge part of your personal life, then you should pursue it as a career with the understanding that the percentage – even during the best period of music – the best percentage that actually made it might have been ten percent. And out of that ten percent there might have been one percent or less that had a sustained career.”

 

His thoughtful answer triggered a related question: Is he surprised that people today still think the business is as it was back in the day?

“I think it’s foolish to have that mindset but it is human nature to do that. It’s the romantic side of things.  I think musicians romanticize what it would be like to have been a band in the 70’s and be a Led Zeppelin or a Queen or a Free or any of those bands without realizing that not only is the industry not that way but life in general isn’t that way. I think that a lot of musicians view it that way for the same reason that period piece films are so incredibly popular. Everybody wants to look at what might have been a more prosperous time or more romantic time in history and that includes music. So, yeah, I think that it’s human nature to look at that.”

With all of that said, I asked Frankie if there are any artists or band out there that are commanding his attention these days.

“Um, not much. I’ve got to be honest with you. I haven’t heard anything out there that particularly impresses me. I continue to go out and add to my collection of CD’s of vinyl that I have that, for whatever reason, somebody has finally put out on CD. I’m aware of the new music because I like knowing what’s going on and I like knowing where the trends are going. I also ignore most of it at the same time. If it doesn’t meet the criteria of the music from my heroes – and I’m just talking the 70’s, I’m talking the 60’s, the 50’s and the 40’s – I’m just simply not interested in it.”

When I comment that I’m doing the same thing and that I prefer to have the physical and not download, Frankie adds, “That’s because we’re fans. One of the reasons why I respect fans so much – whenever possible I try to meet as many of them as possible and sign stuff is because I’m a fan, too.  If you were sitting right here in my office right now, on my walls you would see Charlie Watts autographs, B.B. King and all three members of Cream and Buddy Rich and Miles Davis and Gene Krupa and it just goes on and on and on.  And that’s because I’m a fan.”

What’s next, project wise?

“As far Quiet Riot is concerned, we will continue to do concert dates. We’ve got an Australian/New Zealand tour that we’re doing called Metal Health 2011 which we are headlining and supporting are Warrant, L.A. Guns and then there’ll be local support, as well. That begins at the end of April through the beginning of May then we come back to the states and continue touring. We’ll be at a couple of festivals here in the U.S.

“It’s a work in progress. And when I feel that the band is ready to go into the studio, we’ll take the band into the studio and record. But I’m in no rush to do it. If it’s not right, it’s not right. There’s no reason to rush to do it because, again, it will have to be self-financed, most likely, and for everything we’ve already discussed, there’s no reason to record at this point.”

With our time winding up, I asked Banali where he sees the band being five years from now.

“You know, I don’t even deal along those terms. When Kevin, God bless him, was with us, he loved the fact that I always had the one year plan, the three year plan and the five year plan. The last thing that I would have ever expected would have been that, on November 4th of 2007, would have been the last time that I would ever step on stage with Kevin and that was actually the last time I’d see him alive.

“So, right now, I really concentrate on the immediate future – nothing beyond a year at a time because it’s a work in progress and, as has been tragically proven to me, a lot can happen in a year.”

You can keep up with all the latest with Frankie Banali and the Quiet Riot crew by checking out www.officialquietriot.com.

Emily Armstrong

Posted September, 2011

DeadSara1Like many of you, my listening habits often quickly wind up in a rut. I'll listen to the same handful of albums over and over and over again. In doing so, it's easy to forget that one must swim out of that musical vortex and into the rest of the melodic ocean to discover all sorts of great, new music by up and coming artists.

Exactly that happened to me a couple of months ago when I received an advance copy of the debut CD by the hot, new L.A. band, Dead Sara (read the Boomerocity review of it here).  Baby boomers will enjoy the band if for no other reason than the fact that the band brings back memories of the musical energy and excitement that the bands of our youth fostered.

Ever since hearing the disc and catching a few of their video’s on YouTube, I’ve become quite the evangelist for the band.  There’s just something about Dead Sara that keeps the listener coming back for more.  So, when the opportunity presented itself to interview the band’s lead singer, Emily Armstrong, by phone recently, I naturally jumped at the chance.

I know that most of you have never heard of the band so my first question to Emily was one that I know she and the band has had to have been asked a zillion times:  What’s behind the name, Dead Sara?

“It’s really funny. It’s actually from Fleetwood Mac’s Sara – the song, Sara. She says, ‘Said, Sara . . .’. Siouxsie and I, back in the day, we listened to Fleetwood Mac incessantly and we just loved the thought that it said, ‘Dead Sara’, or, sounds like it.  So we were, like, ‘Yeah! Let’s go with that!’  It was the one thing that we could agree on, too.”

There you have it folks:  Unlike Alice Cooper, the name wasn’t inspired by an axe-wielding murderer or from a séance. Nor did the band’s name come from combining the name of a sex symbol with the name of a famous killer, like Marilyn Manson.  The origin of the band’s name is really as simple misunderstanding what the lyrics of a song was saying.

In my review of Dead Sara, I said that I thought I heard a lot of influences like Melissa Etheridge, Joan Jett and Janis Joplin. Since I had the opportunity to find out for sure, I asked Emily yet another question that I’m sure she’s been asked a bajillion times in the band’s new career:  Who were your biggest musical influences?

“Well, it’s pretty much all over the spectrum. As far as singers that I sound like are concerned, there wasn’t that one singer – or even a couple – that I was like, ‘I want to sound like them’. It was more what I liked at the time because I went through a lot of phases growing up. But what really stuck out to me was the 60’s and 70’s, for sure – a lot of those singers such as Stevie Nicks; such as Janis, Melanie Safka, Robert Plant and stuff like that.  There’s a lot during the 90’s, of course, too. Courtney Love, Kurt Cobain, say, like the bigger ones that people would know.  There was a lot. Like I said, just whatever I was feeling at the time is what was influencing me."

 As for the other band members, “They’ve been in five bands before, from electronic to all sorts of others.  Siouxsie was into a lot of punk rock. So, it’s kind of all over the spectrum.”{mprestriction ids="*"}

Mick and Keith.  Paul and John. Robert and Jimmy.  Daltry and Townshend.  These legendary, musical couples, as well as others, were paired up partly through the introductions by mutual friends.  Such was the case with the ladies of Dead Sara.

“Siouxsie and I had met through a mutual friend.  We had various line-ups when we were about 16 or 17.  It wasn’t until about two years ago when we met Sean (Friday, drummer) and Chris (Null, bassist) that it just clicked. We had known them for awhile from here in L.A.  The first song that we wrote together was Weatherman.”

Whether it is bands, businesses or other careers, they are often planned with one thing in mind and wind up as something completely different.  I asked Emily what she and Siouxsie envisioned the band being like, if it turned out differently than they envisioned as well as what their goals were then as compared to now.

“At the beginning, it was just all over the place. We didn’t know what we wanted. We were just having fun. As far as vision is concerned and going the way we wanted it to go, it was only about two years ago when we decided, ‘Okay, let’s hone in on this. What do we gotta do?’  Then we found these two (Sean and Chris) and it’s been going perfectly – exactly the way we wanted it to go.”

 “The goals change all the time. Once we achieve them, we just make new ones for the next six months or whatever. So, yeah, it’s been going exactly the way we wanted it to go. We have the bigger ones, too, like selling lots of records, being on the radio, things like that. We want to be a really big band so we’re working towards that and it’s going very smoothly.”

Since reviewing the band’s debut  album a couple of months ago, the buzz has been palpable and the traffic reading the review has represented a large percentage of Boomerocity’s traffic since it posted.  For those of you who haven’t heard it yet, I asked Emily to share how her insight into the album, how it all came together and what she hopes you get from it.

“What I would want them to get from it is something inspiring like I do when I write music – when I’m inspired by something. So, I would definitely want a listener to be inspired to do something. Not necessarily to do music but just feel like they have somebody to relate to, if anything.

“So, how the record happened, to give you a little background, we kind of went in when we just met and just started writing and writing and writing.  Then we talked with our good friend, Noah Shain, the producer, and then things clicked. We started the pre-production then went into a studio in Texas – Sonic Ranch - and cut most of the live album then finished it here in L.A.

“I was scared to do it because it was the first record. I didn’t know what to expect. I had it so hyped up in my head like, ‘Oh! It’s gonna be like this’ after reading so many things as a kid. You read about your favorite bands and how they did it so I really had it worked up in my head. But it was easier than I expected.  The way everything moves is very smooth. I thought, ‘Oh, god, I’m going to be running into a rut here soon!’  You think there’s certain things that you’re going to run into because what people had said to you or what you’ve read before.  I just built it up into my head and I was, like, ‘Wow! It’s actually pretty easy and fun!’”

I never get a straight answer when I ask an artist what their favorite song is on their album so I didn’t bother asking Emily that question. However, I did ask her which song on the album she most closely identified with.

“That definitely changes but, right now, and what’s been the most frequent for me is Weatherman just because it’s the first song that we did together. It’s the one always feels really good live – not that the other ones don’t.  This one’s just like we just let loose.  It’s really fun to play live. It’s our first single, too, and a lot of people are responding to it.”

And how has the response been from the audience and fans been?

“Well, during a show, in between songs, we’ll get a lot of different reactions from different places we play. If we’re opening up for somebody or if we’re headlining a show, it’s always great. People are singing along, that’s what we get more and that always feels amazing! But, afterwards, when we get feedback, it’s ‘it was awesome!’ or ‘you completely rocked it!’ and that’s great. We’re doing our jobs then.”

Dead Sara are already quite the road warriors and will likely be hitting the stage in a town or burg near you.  Since  you’ll definitely want to catch their show, I asked Emily what you might expect when you see them on stage. With a laugh, Emily says, “Just some good rock and roll. A fun, intense live set.  We do start our residency at the Viper Room on September 8th. Then  we start on the 13th with Bush in Montana and work our way back down to L.A. then we finish off our residency at the Viper Room.  Busy month!”

As to what’s on the band’s radar in the foreseeable future, it’s lead sing tells me, “More tourin’.  Nothing confirmed yet. We’re looking for other bands to possibly tour with.”

I challenged Ms. Armstrong to polish off her crystal ball so that she can peer into the future a bit and tell me where she see’s Dead Sara 2  to 5 years from now?

“Definitely established, having toured lots of places; having a few records out.  I’d love at least one of them to have gone platinum or more.  Oh, and headlining our own tours.”

I usually ask this question of the folks that are more closer to my age than hers but I asked it of her anyway:  When your life is over and you step off the tour bus for the final time, what do you hope to have accomplished and how do you want to be remembered?

“Hmmm. I would’ve loved to have made my mark in a really big way in rock and roll history; to have inspired a lot from that – for keeping music alive.”

If what I’ve heard and watched so far is any indication, Emily, Siouxsie, Sean and Chris are well on their way to accomplishing exactly that.

Dead Sara and the band are currently touring with Bush and other great match ups are in the works so watch their tour schedule for those.  Also happening next month is the release of the band’s debut album. You’ll want to snatch it up immediately to see what all the buzz is about.  You can also track the band's march into rock and roll history by visiting www.deadsara.com.

Ron Balducci

Posted January, 2012

robbalducciIn my feeble mind, there are three kinds of professional guitarists.  There are the straight, by-the-numbers rock and rollers who play some memorable rock and roll (or its various and sundry cousins).  Then there’s the kind that are “all hat and no cattle” as they say here in Texas.  They’re the kind who, while infinitely more proficient than I’d ever hope to be on the guitar, they’re primarily flash and show without a lot of real expertise involved with their craft.

The third category of professional guitar slingers is where those who are so proficient and so knowledgeable at and of their craft as to be almost otherworldly.  Well known players who I believe fall into this category are guitar blazers like Steve Vai, Eric Johnson, Andy Timmons, Tommy Emmanuel and Steve Lukather esily come to mind.  These are the kind of players who, when heard by other players, provoke feelings of giving up and selling their gear because these guys are in another universe all together as far as their guitar playing abilities are concerned.

While the names I just rattled off are by no means all-inclusive, there is one name that I wish to add to that list: Rob Balducci.

I feel like a musical dunce in that I’ve only recently discovered Balducci’s work.  Rob is on Steve Vai’s label, Favored Nations Entertainment, which is no small accomplishment.  Vai does not suffer “musical fools” and only invites to his label those who command his respect musically.  Listen to Balducci’s last album, Violet Horizon, and you’ll see why Mr. Vai has him on his label.

I recently spoke with Rob about his work, where he’s been and where he’s going.  I have to be honest (as I usually am): I kind of expected a solemn, brooding, hard-to-talk-to musician.  What I experienced was the polar opposite.  Balducci is a warm, friendly and engaging conversationalist with whom I quite enjoyed chatting with.

When Rob called me from his New York digs, I hated to, but I started off by asking the very basic question of who his musical influences were and are.

“It depends on when and where. So, if you’re talking about when I first started out, it goes back to having three older sisters who were into all types of music. That’s what really turned me on to music.  So, right away at an early age I was turned on to the Rolling Stones and Keith Richards. Sympathy For The Devil was one of the first solos that I learned - and, of course, Jimmy Page. It was really that first record, you know what I mean?  Good Times Bad Times, I love the solo in that song! And Communication Breakdown – there’s so many things to like! Oh, and Angus Young! I remember borrowing my sisters Powerage album. All the songs on that record – he’s amazing, know what I mean?

{mprestriction ids="*"}“Then it changed to some other stuff that I liked. As a kid, even before I started playing guitar, I was into Chuck Berry. I remember seeing Chuck Berry doing that duck walk and playing Johnny B. Goode while watching TV with my mother. I remember the first album that I bought – I think I was ten years old – was one of those TV records that you buy. I still have it. It’s like a double record of all these hits. My mother ordered it for me.  So that’s really what turned me on to music and the guitar. Other players, of course, at that time – KISS was kind of big so I was into Ace Frehley.  So, that’s that era. Then you start changing and you start listening to other stuff. I was turned on to Jeff Beck by my sisters.  The Wired record was one of my favorite records.

“I started taking lessons and my instructor turned me on to the Thunder and Lightning record by Thin Lizzy. I heard John Sykes and I started listening to other guitar players in the band like Gary Moore.  So that was my early foundation. Of course, Eddie Van Halen was in there and stuff like that.

“Then, as you move and your ears grow, you start to gravitate towards other stuff. I think that’s the same way now. After all of that, you have the Steve Vai’s and the Joe Satriani’s.  I was always into him but recently in the last couple of years I had some opportunities to do some shows with a guitar player by the name of Richie Kotzen. He started influencing me more around the last couple of years. So, it all depends.”

From a listener’s perspective, when I listen to instrumental music, my feeble mind tends to create it’s own mental/video accompaniment to the music – almost as if it’s part of a movie soundtrack, TV show or commercial.  I asked Rob what he envisioned in his mind as he writes his music.

“What I try and do with my music as far as writing songs – this is how I see it: I see it as my music being a little bit more – even though there’s guitar playing and instrumentals and there might be some crazy stuff, if you’ll notice that the song structures are somewhat like how a vocalist would be singing so it is very melodic. There’s a melody and there’s another section and there’s a solo break. So, when I’m writing I tend to think more in the sense that the guitar is the vocal.  It’s singing but it’s playing the melody.

“What I do is – I really don’t think in the musical context of saying, ‘I’m going to write a song and I want it to be this way or I want it to be in this key signature or I want it to be a crazy, odd time meter” or stuff like that. I tend to throw away all of my musical knowledge as far as – I don’t use musical knowledge to write. I think writing should come from within – from your heart and from some sort of emotion or feeling. That’s really what I go with. I’ll come up with an inspiration first of what I want the song to be about and I’ll try to come up with a title first.  This way it gives me some sort of picture of what the song would be about. And, then, I come up with a melody and a lot of times I’m not even using a guitar. It would be just trying to come up with what it’s sounding like in my brain and humming it and then putting it onto the instrument. So, that’s sort of the process. In the beginning it took awhile. But as you keep doing that kind of thing, it sort of became my process.”

As to whether his music has been used in movies or TV, Balducci says that, “It’s something I really want to get into. I recently got hooked up with a catalog agency that uses stuff for that.  I’m hoping something like that works out.  I just recently hooked up with the Lowry agency and we created a partnership together so that is probably some of the things that David (Lowry) will try and work on, as well. So I don’t think it’s explored enough and I agree with you, I think it would be something that would be really good to do.”

Some artists prefer just recording and releasing music, others prefer performing in front of a live audience and still others get off on doing both.  What are Rob’s preferences?

“I like doing it all, you know what I mean? I really like the recording process and seeing what you write and seeing the result of what it’s going to sound like.  I do love performing. With the way the music industry is, it is getting harder to do but, as much as I can I get out there and perform.”

When I mentioned about the YouTube video I saw of his performance at the Granada Theater here in Dallas, Rob’s reaction was genuinely enthusiastic.

“Oh, yeah, that was great! I would like to come back. To tell you the truth, that was probably one of my favorite places to play – the Granada Theater. We did a night there with Andy Timmons.  I opened up for him and it was really cool. I would love to maybe to try to do something with him again or, if not with him, I would love to get out there. It’s definitely a possibility!”

Because of Balbucci’s reputation as a top shelf guitar talent and the space he shares with other great guitarists at Favored Nations Entertainment, I was curious as to who all he had jammed with and who he hopes to jam with at some time in the future.

“I played with Andy Timmons (check out a video of that jam here). We did a jam together. I did some shows with Richie Kotzen and we ended up jamming together, which was fun. That was in the UK. I did open up for Peter Frampton at one point and I would’ve loved to have jammed with him but I wasn’t able to. So that’s one on my that I would like to jam with. Two of guitar players did a guest spots on this record (Violet Horizon). One of them is Dave Weiner. He and I jammed together. Dave is the second guitar player in Steve Vai’s band and he’s also a solo artist. That was a lot of fun. Me and Dave became really good friends and we try and tour together. I’ve also played with Guthrie Govan (Asia, GPS, and the Young Punx). He did a guest spot on my CD – a new guitar player that’s been out. He’s quite a musician and that was a lot of fun.

“People that I would love to jam with if possible?  I would love to do something, of course, with Eddie Van Halen. I met him one time and I would love to be able to able to jam with him!”  Then, putting his thoughts into concise perspective, he adds, “You know, it really would be all of my guitar players that I like so much. I would love to do something with Jeff Beck. I really like Jeff Beck. I think a really good paring and it hasn’t happened yet - and I’m on Steve’s label – I would love to do an opening spot for Steve and Joe Satriani. So there are a lot of things that I would like to do and to try and do. Whether they happen or not is in the stars, I guess” Rob concludes with a laugh.

I’m always interested to hear what was the first guitar owned by highly talented players like Balducci so I asked him what his was and if he still owned it.

“The first guitar that I played actually used to be my sisters acoustic guitar and I think I still have that. I think it was a Sokovia or something like that. Then, the first electric guitar I ever received was actually bought for me by my godmother and it was a Gibson guitar. It’s a guitar called ‘The Paul’ which is like a tamed down version of a Les Paul. It was made out of walnut wood. It had no crazy finish on it. It was just natural wood, ebony neck and I still have that guitar. I think that they stopped making it so it’s pretty cool.”

Most guitar slingers have quite an arsenal of guitars that they lean on while honing their craft.  I asked Rob how many he owns.  I also was curious if there was what he considered to be the “holy grail” of guitars and does he own it.

“I know guys who have been playin’ like me and they have friggin’ hundreds – 150.  I have about twenty guitars. The first one is that Gibson and, after that, basically, it was Ibanez guitars. I’m fortunate enough to be endorsed by Ibanez Guitars. I think it’s been something like twenty years now. So a lot of my guitars are Ibanez guitars. I have some old vintage ones that they made. They originally made copies of Strats and Les Pauls so I have one of each of those. They basically do a custom guitar for me. It’s not sold in stores but they do a custom model that they do for me and I have a couple of them and that’s really what I use all the time.

“The holy grail of guitars? I think that I like the A Series of those Ibanez guitars. They had one called an ‘RG’ and they actually did a re-issue of them. They’re these yellow and road-flare red – I think they’re called the 550. I would like to own an original one of those which I definitely don’t have and it’s hard to find one that’s not beat to shreds for some reason. And I think just for the sense of the collectability factor, just to have an old Les Paul like a ’59 or something like that but they’re so expensive, it’s ridiculous!”

So, with the new born babe of 2012 still wrapped in swaddling clothes, I asked Balducci what does he have planned for the new year.

“What I have going on right now is, just recently – this past December – I came out with an instructional DVD. That’s through The Rockhouse Method and if you go to my website, RobBalducci.com, there’s some links on there on how you can purchase it. Some of the Guitar Centers carry it and Sam Ash’s. You can pick it up through Amazon and places like that.

“It’s geared towards intermediate to advance players. It’s a two disc set and I’m pretty excited about it. I didn’t want to do an instructional DVD where it’s like, ‘Here’s my little power riff and how fast I can play it’. There’s a lot of those out there. It covers warming up, it covers how you should hold the guitar, how you should hold the pick. So it starts out at that level and it goes up to songwriting and I talk about some of those things we were talking about before about having an inspiration and trying to get that into your music. There are some exercises to do that. I cover vibrato, which I think is important. When I teamed up with Rock House, I said, ‘Listen, I would love to do one but it has to be done a certain way and this is what I want to do’ and they were really excited about it and we worked it out. It’s pretty cool!

“I go in to start recording – I’m in a pre-production phase now – so I go in to start recording some basic tracks the end of January for a new CD, so I’m excited about that. In the mean time, while that’s happening, I’ll still be doing some shows. I’m going to be at NAMM, which is going to be January 19th through the 22nd. There’s a software company called ‘Studio Devil’ and I’ll be at that event, playing at their booth and demoing.  There’s a couple of shows that I just recently started to book on the east coast. One is in Queens on February 17th at Dublin Pub and another one is May 18th on Long Island at a place called Morelli’s. I’m going to be working on some clinics involved around the DVD.  I’m definitely going to be busy and out there. The best place for folks to keep in touch on those things would be to check out my website – you can see the updates, where I’ll be playing and what’s going on.”

Did he say he’s working on a new CD?  I had to ask when he expected it to be out because I definitely what a copy.

“My plan is for later this year. I have five tunes basically done that I’m going to record with the trio that I’ve been playing with for a little bit. In the mean time, I’m writing the second half of the record which I think that I’m going to be doing with other players. It’s the first time that I’ve done that.  It mixes things up and it’s a little interesting. I think it should be pretty cool.”

Many artists have an unspoken dream of producing an album of work that’s different from what they’re known for.  I asked what he would produce if he didn’t have to think about the marketability of an album.

“That’s really what I’m doing now.  I don’t know if you can say that there’s two types of musicians but people look at music in different ways. I see music and guitars as an art form and I’m doing this because I love it. This is what I want to do in the sense that I’m not following a trend. I’m doing instrumental guitar music which is not the way to go if you want to be a millionaire in any way, you know what I mean?  If I was doing it for that, I think that I would have quit a long time ago.

“I’m doing what I want to do now. It’s not to say that I wouldn’t want to do something else. I wouldn’t mind getting a band together with a vocal project. If the right people come along – you need to surround yourself with good people – people who are positive. It depends. That could be in the future as well but right now this is what I want to do and I’m happy with what I release.”

While Rob can look forward to many more years of living, he’s lived enough life for me to ask him what he hopes his legacy will be after he’s no longer rockin’ and rollin’ on this planet.

“That’s a tough one, eh?  I would say first of all that I would want to be remembered as a good songwriter; someone who was able to translate positive vibes out there with their music and that I was a good person. This business is full of people who are not genuine and I think that I’m a genuine guy and I think that that goes a long way. I don’t think it’s really the ‘nice guy finishes last’ type of thing . . . hopefully!”

I somehow know in my knower that this nice guy by the name of Rob Balducci is not going to finish last. 

As was stated earlier in this piece, you can keep up with Rob and what all is going on with his music by visiting RobBalducci.com.  If, like me, you’re a connoisseur of great guitar work, then order or download the CD’s listed on this page.  If you’re a guitar player who is in the intermediate to advanced range in your abilities, then definitely order a copy of the DVD also shown on this page. 

And, of course, somewhere out there on the violet horizon, you’ll definitely want to catch Rob in the act at one of his clinics or gigs.  That is definitely in my plans.  See you there!

Sam Andrew

 

 

 

 

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Randy Patterson

 

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Perfect Sound Forever

 

December, 2009