Last month, Rocky III, and it’s mega-hit theme song “Eye of the Tiger” by the band Survivor, both turned 38 years old. Originally released in late May of 1982, they’ve each endured the test of time in their own respective rights, with the latter remaining one of the biggest arena anthems and classic radio staples of all time to this day. Recently, I was able to speak with Survivor guitarist Frankie Sullivan (who was taking a stroll around his neighborhood at the time) via phone about just what the song’s legacy means to him, as well as what’s in store for the band in the near future.
Sullivan co-wrote said track “Eye of the Tiger” along with former Survivor member Jim Peterik (the duo co-penned the majority of the band’s material together), and is literally the lone ‘survivor’ of the band’s original lineup. One of the first things I asked Sullivan was whether or not he felt the song would go down as the one he’s most remembered for. He says; “Well, I don’t really think any one song can define character. It defines a moment in somebody’s life, maybe, but not the person themselves. But some really great relationships came out of that whole thing, though.”
I wanted to know if Sullivan still felt the same he did when performing live not only songs like “Tiger…,” but many of the band’s other classics such as “The Search is Over” or “I Can’t Hold Back” as he once did when those songs were all still brand new. He tells me; “The first couple notes, that’s when the magic happens, and you can really see it in people! It’s all awesome!”
I also asked what Sullivan’s been keeping himself busy doing with all of his recent down time, and he tells me,”Interviews! I don’t normally do a lot of them, but I said ‘I’m gonna do this,’ and it turned out to be a lot of great fun. Usually we’d be out on the road working right now, but I think people are paying more attention to what’s going on in the country right now than what bands are doing.”
With the passing of former lead singer Jimi Jamison in 2014, and, more recently former bassist Stephan Ellis in 2019, I asked what he wanted people to remember them for; “I think they remember exactly what they saw of them. Sometimes it was energy, sometimes presence. I think the world already knows that. If they don’t, then they’re not thinking about them enough, anyway. That’s why I don’t always comment much on the guys who have passed.”
I was also curious if Frankie kept in touch with any other former members, such as original lead singer Dave Bickler, and former drummer Marc Droubay. He tells me; “Well, I don’t keep in touch with Dave, but that’s not unusual. We’ve never really kept in touch from day one. I’ve known Marc since around ’75 though, and he’s a great drummer, man. Marc always followed the guitar riffs and ignored the bass, but that’s a whole other thing. It was kind of like how Jimmy Page felt about John Bonham.” And as far as having his own son (current Survivor drummer Ryan Sullivan) in the band with him now, Frankie says, “As long as he’s a good drummer, it’s great! He was Marc’s tech before he was in the band, too, so he always called him Uncle Marc.”
And when asked if Survivor has any plans for new music in the works, Sullivan simply states; “If it happens, it happens. but Survivor has such a rich catalogue of original material and stuff people haven’t even heard yet. We have demos from sessions that I don’t think some of the guys who have been in the band have ever even heard. But at this time with what’s going on in the world and country right now, I haven’t even considered going and recording new music.”
Sullivan left with this sentiment; “I was young when I started, and was recording during the best years of music history; analog tape recording. After that it was all digital, and before that it wasn’t ready for prime time. These days kids can make records in their bedrooms, and God bless them for it. But I came from a different school, and like the stuff that came before all that. I lived through the greatest years in recording history…and it’s still the best!”
It’s not a far stretch of the imagination to say that nearly every major band across the globe has felt the effects of 2020 in some way, shape, or form (at the very least financially). But despite the uncertainty of the still-lingering pandemic, bands like ’80s rockers Kix have been waiting on the sidelines to rock audiences again, and – as long as given the green light – are preparing to do just that sooner that you might think. I recently spoke with Kix guitarist and co-founder Brian “Damage” Forsythe from his home in Nashville, TN about what the band has been doing to keep themselves busy, and when we might just see them take the stage again.
While Kix does currently have some upcoming shows listed on their site, I asked Brian how concrete they were, to which he says; “It’s definitely weird. We haven’t played since mid-March, so this is pretty much the longest we’ve gone between gigs I think. And the scary thing is, we don’t even know when our next gig is going to be for sure. There’s still some shows on our calendar right now, but we’ve had so many of them already pushed ahead or postponed completely until next year, so we never really know what’s up…we’re just trying to hang in there though!”
Being one of the very few notable bands to emerge out of the state of Maryland during the ’80s hair metal scene, I asked if any particular moments in the band’s hometown stuck out for Brian; “I remember in ’89 when we were doing our first real big, full-length tour with Ratt. We were usually the openers on that tour, then Britny Fox were after us, and then Ratt were the headliners. But when we got to our hometown gig, we flipped it so that Britny Fox went on first that night, and we went on second, which meant we were able to have a longer set. And I just remember the crowd went crazy when we went out there, I never heard anything like that before! People were holding up their lighters and singing along to every single lyric, and to make it even more special, my parents were there that night!”
I was also curious what made him decide to relocate to Nashville, and if any other members of Kix still resided in Maryland. He informs me; “Most of the guys still live in that area of either Maryland or Virginia, and are pretty much within a 25 mile radius of each other. I’m the only lone wolf living here in Nashville now, and I just moved here about a year ago after being out in L.A. for about 25 years.”
Forsythe was also recently featured in our pal/long time supporter Kenny Wilkerson’s cookbook, Rockin’ Recipes For Autism, so naturally I had to ask him about his selection for the book. Brian says, “I’m a big foodie guy and love to cook. The funny thing is, that recipe (a beet medley over wild rice) is actually a couple years old, and since then I’ve stopped eating it (laughs). I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s still a good recipe, but since then I’ve sort of changed my diet around, and there’s stuff in it that I don’t eat anymore, so it’s kinda funny how that worked out!”
Kix will perhaps always be best remembered for their 1988 hit power ballad “Don’t Close Your Eyes,” so I wanted to get a little into the song’s backstory, as well as how it is to still perform the cut today. He explains; “The way Kix worked back then was, we’d work on new stuff at our rehearsal space in between tours, and we’d pretty much have it completed before we got into the actual studio to record it. As far as playing it live goes…sometimes people will complain about having to do the same songs every night, but the way I look at it is kind of like someone in a play might, so I try to put everything I have into playing it every single time. The one difference between playing it now versus in the ’80s though is, back in those days, (former Kix bassist) Donnie would play the keyboards on stage, and I would play a Roland synth bass. I had to use that guitar every night, and I hated it (laughs)! But now when we play it live, we have samples of the keyboards instead of having anyone actually playing them on stage, so now I can just play straight guitar through it, and it’s a lot easier for me.”
Staying on the topic of recording and knowing that it’s been several years now since the last studio release from Kix (2014’s Rock Your Face Off), I had to ask Brian if we might see any new material from the band in the near future. He tells me; “We’ve talked about it, and everybody has their own ideas they’ve been working on here and there, so I’m sure something will come together sooner than later. We have had all these other little things released in the meantime though since Rock…, like the Blow My Fuse live set/DVD.”
Knowing that Brian was also a member of Rhino Bucket for many years, I asked if he still had anything other than Kix that he was currently working on, and says; “Well, I was still playing in Rhino Bucket up until we disbanded a couple years ago, and that was a lot of fun. I get a lot of emails from people asking me to play on tracks here and there too that I’ll sometimes do. I did one recently for a band called Streetlight Circus, and also played solo on a song written by Frank Meyer and produced by Bruce Duff about the pandemic called “Flatten the Curve” that had like 30 some odd musicians on it, many of them from the L.A. scene (including Cherie Curry of The Runaways and Mike Watt of the Minutemen, among many others).”
Before we ended our conversation, I was curious to know if Forsythe might throw his hat in the mix of the numerous rock bios becoming more and more frequently released. Brian states; “I used to be in a relationship with Janiss Garza, who was the senior editor of RIP Magazine back in the ’80s (and eventually co-wrote Lemmy Kilmister’s book, White Line Fever), and I actually ran the idea by her a long time ago, but it just never happened. It would’ve been fun to do with her, but I guess it’s never too late to do it in general. The good thing is though, I actually saved all of my calendars that I have notes written on going back to the ’80s, so it shouldn’t be too hard!”
There was once a time when punk rock was actually all-inclusive and welcoming to any and all walks of life – a haven of sorts for outcasts living on the fringes of society. Now, it’s nothing more than a beacon for close-minded conformity, casting out anyone who dare goes against what’s considered “right” in their shared, group-think mentalities. It has become a parody in and of itself, denouncing the same “fascism” it so feverishly claims to be against while simultaneously creating it’s own ignorant fraction of it (much like Johnny Rotten warned against so many years ago during it’s first wave).
Case in point; Michale Graves. The former frontman for horror punk legends the Misfits (and son of a retired police officer), has never been shy to admit his conservative views. Yet with cancel (or perhaps more appropriately, “cancer”) culture hell-bent on shutting down anyone and everyone refusing to adhere to it’s ridiculous belief system, Graves has been ridiculed and ostracized by fans, promoters, and even musicians (including former band mates) and seemingly cast out of his own scene for his involvement with such programs as InfoWars. I was recently able to speak to Graves regarding the fallout he’s been experiencing, and where he’s at right now musically.
Regarding his now-former solo band members, Graves tells me; “My bass player Howie and drummer Adam basically decided they could’t associate themselves with me anymore. And (Former Misfits drummer) Dr. Chud actually reached out to me about re-releasing the (Graves album) Web of Dharma, which we all agreed would be a good thing since it’s such a great record. We were making steps towards making that happen, and then since Chud is apparently this entrenched leftist activist and had seen what I had been saying online lately – which is really nothing different than what I have in the past – he absolutely refuses to talk to any of us now, and told my manager not to reach out to him ever again. I actually reached out to him last year as well before the South American tour and asked him to come play drums because I thought it’d be tremendous for everyone (especially the fans) to see half of that ’90s lineup of the Misfits again, but he basically told me to go take a hike.”
I asked Graves if this shutting down of anyone who doesn’t follow the strict liberal narrative these days was the same across the board everywhere in the music world, and he tells me; “That’s absolutely how it is, yes. The same thing happened to me with Gotham Road. We had European and U.S. dates get cancelled, and no magazines would talk to me, nobody wanted anything to do with me, all because of my outspokenness on certain issues. There was even an instance once years ago when I did an appearance on the show Much Music, and when they got to me, I commented my opinion the way I always do, and was told afterwards that they would live up to their contract as far as payment goes, but wouldn’t allow me to come back on their show again. So it’s nothing new to me, it’s all happened before, it’s just more prevalent now, more ferocious. But the horror punk scene that I’m such a cornerstone in, such a big part of, they hated me way back when, and now they hate me even more. You look out across rock music, and you might be able to name a couple bands with conservative beliefs, but as far as in my world right now…I’m all alone. In the past week, between the band quitting on me and promoters refusing to work with me, it’s really just making my point.”
Of course I had to talk to Michale about his time with the Misfits, and, being someone who was actually on hand to witness when the Graves-era of the band disintegrated on stage at the House of Blues in Orlando (on October 25, 2000), I had to ask if he knew his time would soon be up prior to that show. He tells me; “I knew the end was coming. I just wanted to be in a band and make music with my friends, and those guys didn’t care about me, and they still don’t. I wasn’t very business savoy back then at all. Any advice I was ever given by any of the ‘inside’ people surrounding me at the time – whether it be Jerry, his brother Kenny, or one of the most manipulative people I have ever met, (Misfits manager) John Cafiero – never had my best interest in mind. I knew they were just taking advantage of me, and If I ever brought up that I was unhappy or anything, I was told there was a long line of people that would love to be in my place.”
He goes on; “I always tell this story of when Jerry (Only, Misfits bassist) and I were doing this ‘big’ interview once, and the person asked us where the song content comes from, for example, for “American Psycho.” I’m thinking in my head, ‘I wrote this song. I read the book, I’m tapped into this…here we go.’ And Jerry, just filibusters as he usually does, and ultimately just says that ‘the songs just write themselves once we get going,’ and then on to the next question. Try to find interviews of me from back then, and they’re few and far between because I wasn’t allowed to say anything against the narrative and image that Jerry wanted to put out. And they still don’t know what those songs are even about! (laughs). We were a great band, but we were constantly derailed by the decision making process really of Jerry and Kenny. I’ll give you another example; Rob Zombie wanted to make our first videos off American Psycho. He was just starting to make that charge towards getting into film, and somewhere along the way, everybody decided that John (Cafiero) would be better suited to make our videos than Rob Zombie. It’s just ridiculous.”
When asked if he still spoke with any of his of his other former Misfits bandmates though, he says; “I keep up with (Misfits guitarist) Doyle as best as I can. We communicate back and forth every now and then and check in on each other. Out of everyone, Doyle was like my big brother, and really took me under his wing. But to be honest, I wouldn’t even pursue working with him again right now cause I wouldn’t wanna bring any sort of difficulties to him (laughs). Jerry is a big star now and still treats me like I’m still a 20-year-old kid, so any communication between us has been few and far between. Seeing this as the perfect segue to my next question, I inquired his honest opinions on when Jerry took over the lead vocal position after his departure from the band; “Absolutely horrible. People like Jerry surround themselves with ‘yes men.’ I don’t remember coming across any honest appraisal of the music he tried to make. That Misfits album is just awful.”
Of course I had to ask Michale what his thoughts were when the band re-united with original singer Glen Danzig recently as well. “Well I was really happy for the fans that after all of these years of private and public feuding, Jerry and Glen were able to finally get to that point. As far as the music is concerned, I personally feel like it’s hard to translate songs like “Bullet” and “Halloween” in these big giant spaces. They’re not stadium songs. So I probably would’ve advocated to have those shows performed in more smaller venues, where I think the music would’ve sounded better sonically.”
Before we ended our conversation, I asked Michale to share a more positive memory from his time with the Misfits as well; “I remember just being in the vocal booth and recording – we recorded both American Psycho and Famous Monsters in this old church that was converted into a studio, not far from Woodstock, NY – and seeing everyone’s faces during the takes, how everyone was working together and being so creative. One of my most favorite memories that my mind always goes back to that makes me both very happy, and really sad, was working on “Fiend Without a Fiend.” That song – which I had composed and for the first time played acoustic guitar on – was so out in left field and different from anything else we had done before. It was really exciting at that point, because it had opened up all new doors for us, gave us all confidence both individually and collectively that we could now do songs like that. We knew we had evolved as a band, and soon after, everything fell apart.”
Although he wouldn’t go into too much detail, Michale assures me there is new music in the works. And if you want to catch Graves live, he has some shows lined up towards the end of the summer, which, when asked how concrete they are, he informs me; “Everything that I have up on the website as of right now is still on. There’s a handful of acoustic dates that are still supposed to pick up starting July 31, and some European shows next year. But there’s promoters and things being canceled behind the scenes, so while everything on there is still confirmed as of right now, you never know if it may change.”
L.A. Guns are a complicated bunch to say the least; for the second time in the band’s history, there are two separate versions of the band currently active (a practice becoming more and more common among groups from their era). Bassist Kelly Nickels was a part of their “classic” era (as well as an early member of another notorious Sunset Strip group, Faster Pussycat), playing on the first four L.A. Guns records and classic tracks like “Never Enough,” “Rip and Tear,” and “The Ballad of Jayne.” After a number of years absent from playing with the group, Nickels recently re-joined the Steve Riley-led version of the band; I recently spoke with him regarding just how that reunion came about, among other things.
Before getting in to band business, I asked Nickels what he was up to during his time away from the band. He tells me; “I’ve done all kinds of stuff! I’ve done a lot of carpentry, I’ve got my own design company where I do a lot of graphics and computer work, and the last few years I’ve been working on a shark cage diving boat off of Long Island. And of course raising kids in there, too, so I’ve stayed busy!”
Nickels then painted a picture of just how things played out getting involved with L.A. Guns again; “Well, Steve (Riley, L.A. Guns drummer) called me and told me what was going on with M3. They asked him to put a version of the band together to play that festival last year, and he basically asked me if I’d be interested in doing it or not, and the timing was good in my life, and it’s felt good to get back out there”
He goes on to explain how this incarnation of the band came to be; “When we first started the project, we had two other people who were into doing it, but dropped out. So we looked at Scott (Griffin, L.A. Guns guitarist), who had played bass in the band before (from 2007-09, and again from 2011-14), but Steve said he was an amazing guitar player too, which I had no idea. But I thought that was a great cause I already knew him a little bit from meeting him throughout the years. And Scott knew Kurt (Frohlich, L.A. Guns singer) and said he’d be a good fit. Kurt sent us a tape and we liked it, so we flew him out from FL to L.A. for a few days of rehearsal, and the chemistry and energy were really good, so we just said ‘let’s go’.”
The band released a new single last month called “Crawl,” and also have a full length album coming out soon titled Renegades. I asked how the songwriting went, and Kelly tells me; “We all chipped in and brought in songs. We basically took the best of what we had in a short amount of time to put it together. We wanted to just keep it a high energy record, which I think it is. A little punk, a little thrash mixed in there. But it’s been a really fun project, and we’re just looking forward to playing it and getting it out there. Just to put a song out into the world is an amazing gift, and we’re looking forward to sharing it with people.”
I also had to ask if Nickels, who is the only member of L.A. Guns to ever sing lead vocals on a song other than a lead singer (on the track “Nothing Better To Do” from 1994’s Vicious Circle album), would be singing lead again on any of the upcoming album’s numbers. He explains; “First of all, “Nothing Better To Do” was an accident (Laughs)! We were in the studio doing it, and everybody went to dinner, and I stayed with the engineer and decided to put just a guide vocal down for Phil (Lewis, L.A. Guns vocalist in the Guns/Lewis version of the band), and when he got back from dinner I played it for him, and he said it was ‘already done.’ I never had any intention of singing lead on a song (and probably never will again!). I was just trying to help him out, but he thought it was good the way it was, so it just kind of ended up the way it is.”
Still, the band revived the track last year during the previously-mentioned M3 Rockfest, alongside a host of classics, including perhaps the band’s most well-remembered hit, “The Ballad of Jayne.” I asked Kelly what it was that made so-called power ballads like it so enduring to fans all these years later, and he says; “I think that a good song is a good song, any way you want to label it. But there were a lot of really good ones that I think were pretty solid, heartfelt songs that a lot of bands put out at the time. Being a hard rock band known mostly for your ballads, it’s a weird thing. But hey, as long as they like you, man (Laughs).”
With the situation being as unique as it is with two versions of the band, I had to ask if there might ever be a chance for the two fractions to ever play together again. Nickels says, “I never want to say never, but I would say it’s pretty unlikely. It’s unfortunate L.A. Guns is the way it is, but it’s a rock n’ roll soap opera (Laughs). But if you like them (the Guns/Lewis version), it’s totally fine with us. We’re not trying to hurt anyone, but this just is the way it is. We just wanna be able to play as musicians, and these are the songs that we wrote, too, that are a big part of who we are, you know? And we’re all getting older, and don’t really wanna start over from scratch at this point in our lives. But like I said, we’re not trying to hurt anybody here, we’re just trying to play some music, too.”
And finally, with the uncertainty of live events still hanging in the balance, I asked Kelly what the future looked like for the band as far as playing live. He informs me; “We have a lot of shows that are being rescheduled for August, September, October, etc. It’s giving us some time to make sure the coast is clear, and if it’s safe to do them, of course we’d love to do them. I know people are ready to go, and a lot of people are ready to bust out their windows (Laughs). Obviously we have to make sure it’s safe for everyone to go before we do them, but we’re hoping for sometime in the fall though, so we’ll see how it goes.”
For nearly three decades, Timothy DiDuro has been bashing the skins for bands all over the central, FL area and beyond. After a brief gig drumming for Skid Row in early 2004, he went on to play with Slaughter for seven years as their touring drummer before also blasting out Motley Crue hits as a member of Vince Neil’s solo band (much like another ex-Skid Row drummer Rewind It Magazine has interviewed in the past did, DiDuro’s predecessor, Phil Varone).
DiDuro keeps things a little more locally these days, lending his talents to the metal act Rising Up Angry, as well as cover supergroup The Beautiful Bastards, an act that RewindIt Magazine was also on hand to see perform live in DeLand last year (which is also what this article’s photo is from). Timothy has also almost single-handely taken on a new project in the form of JettRacer, a creative outlet that finds him also singing and playing guitar in addition to playing the drums, with Seether bassist Corey Lowery being the only other musician involved in the mix.
I was recently able to speak to Timothy, and one of the first things I wanted to know was about his brand new project with Lowery, which he tells me, “A few years back, I started writing and stockpiling my own material after years of being a ‘hired gun’ drummer. I was working with a guy named Zach Vick at the time, who had a studio and basically able to go there and do some pre-production, as well as write a bunch of material myself. I sat on a lot of the stuff for awhile, but then the whole thing with Corey came about when I decided to reach out to him one day and tell him I had this material that I’d like to work with him on as possibly a producer. He was instantly up for it, so I sent him a couple of tracks, and he happened to pick the track “It’s Not the End” (which you can also check out right now on YouTube) to re-work with me, and it turned out great. I thought the timing to release this single would be perfect, not only because of the state of the world and how we’re living right now, but I thought it might actually be something somewhat inspiring. Brandon Goldthwaite also did such an amazing job producing the video.”
He goes on to elaborate regarding stepping out from behind the drum set to the microphone/songwriter’s seat and says, “It’s not what people normally expect from me musically, but I just kinda wanted to do something on my own, so I just kept pushing myself to do it. There are guys out there who have went from drummers to writers, and I always found that inspiring.” I also asked what was in store for the future of JettRacer, and Timothy tells me, “I haven’t even really thought about a live, physical band yet, but like I said, I have a stockpile of material, and I’m going to absolutely continue writing.”
DiDuro also informs me that once things blow over in these current quarantined conditions that he will definitely be picking back up with his other projects, such as The Beautiful Bastards, saying, “I just enjoy playing with those guys so much, we always have a great time together.” He also says there should be more stuff to look out for in the near future from Rising Up Angry, another local outfit he had previously gotten involved with shortly before the days of social distancing.
And I’m not sure what kind of Skid Row fan I would be if I didn’t ask at least one question regarding how DiDuro did time in one of the biggest bands to ever emerge out of my home state of New Jersey; “I basically got a phone call from a drummer friend of mine, Will Hunt from Evanescence, and he’s the one who pretty much put me in that driver’s seat and basically told the band about me…so kudos to Will (Laughs)! It was super brief to be honest with you, though. I didn’t really have a lot of time to do my homework, and they had a full world tour booked, so I think a lot of that really came down on me. I ended up doing just a couple shows and videos with them, and ironically enough when I ended up being with Slaughter, we ended up doing a lot of co-headlining shows together! So for years and years I was actually able to still hang out and see them play, and they’re still friends of mine to this day.”
You can check out the video for DiDuro’s new track here;
Kenny Wilkerson truly needs no introduction around here, and “Bassist for Nova Rex” just barely scratches the surface of the many hats he wears. Aside from keeping the flames of his central FL-based outfit Nova Rex lit since the mid-’80s, he’s also the co-host on a nightly radio talk show (Real Talk with G-Love, weekdays from 7-8pm est on Florida Man Radio 660 AM/105.5 FM), and his cookbook, Rockin’ Recipes For Autism, has finally seen the light of day after much love and labor. He even has a new track out for a project he did with John Bisaha, lead singer of the band The Babys. I was recently able to catch up with Kenny (who I first met back in 2016 after being assigned to write about Nova Rex for the magazine I was working for at the time), who was as enthusiastic as ever to tell me about all of the events he has going on at the moment.
The first thing I wanted know was how he was feeling about his cookbook to finally seeing the light of day, which he tells me; “I’m very excited! This has been a large, hard, and expensive process, but definitely worth it to bring Rockin Recipes… to the table, and one of the coolest things I have ever done.” The cookbook has already caused quite a stir since its release, having been featured on rachaelraymag.com, among others.
I also asked how his latest project, Wilkerson/Bisaha, in which Kenny covered the Donnie Iris song “Ah Leah” with The Babys frontman John Bisaha, came about. Kenny says; “It was a song we had on the table for awhile for Nova Rex that just didn’t happen, but it was exciting enough that my good friend John (Bisaha) sang it, and I decided to put a video around it with some of the guys in the cookbook as another promotion tool for it. John was the perfect guy to sing it, plus I was excited to have Barry Rubinow direct it.”
Of course I had to inquire how Nova Rex were adjusting to these strange days where live shows and events are nowhere to be found. Kenny tells me; “Just like all of the other musicians around, we have lost a lot of live shows, but we’re using the downtime to rework our stage show with new things from Sawbladehead Designs, as well as a new single we’re working on.”
He concludes; “These are crazy times, but make sure to support local musicians by buying t-shirts, merch…anything you can while we’re all stuck at home.” In the meantime, don’t forget to listen to Kenny weeknights on his previously-mentioned radio show, and definitely be sure to pick up your copy of Kenny’s brand new book at http://www.rockinrecipesforautism.com (which Rewind It Magazine will surely review as well!).
There’s no doubt a lot has drastically changed in the music world since Jay Jay French last took the stage with Twisted Sister – a band with whom he helped shape the foundation for going as far back as the early ’70s – in 2016. Last week, I was briefly able to pick at Jay Jay’s brain and ask him some poignant questions about not only his days with Twisted Sister, but also his take on these unpredictable times we’re all living through right now.
With the Coronavirus currently looming at the forefront of everyone’s minds these days, one of the first things I wanted to know was his thoughts on whether or not the music world will ever get back to the way it was beforehand, to which he simply says; “One thing’s for certain, things always change. But there were never any “good old days,” ever. There were just different ways to screw the artist.”
Since his final tour with Twisted Sister, Jay Jay has kept somewhat of a low profile. I asked what his relationship with his former bandmates was like today, and if he ever kept in touch with any of the band’s numerous early members, to which he said; “Well, there is no ‘former’ Twisted Sister! Twisted Sister is still a working corporation that just happens to not tour anymore. We are a family of friends and business partners with almost a 50-year history, and we have licensing deals that I still need to review weekly. The only former member I’m still in contact with is (original Twisted Sister bassist) Kenny Neil. Many members have since sadly died.”
I also wanted to know how it felt when playing certain songs live, specifically the band’s most well-known power balled, “The Price.” To my surprise, I received one of the most honest replies any interviewee has likely ever given me; “Any heavily working musician, especially one in a band that plays the same set night after night, will tell you that the music can go by and you don’t even think about what you’re playing. It’s that automatic. Ask a baseball player if they remember a game. What does happen sometimes is that events occur that stand out…
…Playing “The Price” at the reunion show for the 9/11 NY Steel is one of those times. Playing it the first time in 2015 after the death of our drummer, AJ Pero (with Mike Portnoy as his replacement) in Las Vegas, as well as every show we played the summer after he died. That song brought me to tears almost every single night. That is when the message sends chills down my spine. Actually, the fifth anniversary of AJ’s death was March 20th, and just thinking about that song right now sets off those emotions again.”
He continues; “The Price is about the sacrifices one makes to follow one’s dreams. It is one of Dee (Snider’s) best, and he wrote it after a phone call with my sister-in-law while we were in England recording our second album. She asked him what it was like being away from his wife and son for three months, and I believe Dee’s response was, ‘It’s the price you have to pay’.”
On a less serious note, I had to ask what it was like being the only band who can say they appeared in the 1985 Tim Burton film, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. He informs me, “When things begin, like when you first see your album for sale in a record store, or you hear your song on the radio, or you see yourself in a movie, it’s a big thrill. After awhile, all of that fades away. It was fun at the time, but I got a big kick (not to mention paycheck!) out of Facebook using “I Wanna Rock” in a Super Bowl ad. That adds to our enormous amount of music licenses, making us the most musically-licensed metal band in history. The fact our music remains internationally popular 35 years after the release of (Twisted Sister album) Stay Hungry, is the most gratifying thrill of all. Dee has written some timeless classics!”
Jay Jay says he even donated a decent amount of his personal guitars after the band’s last tour, and that his days performing on the stage are indeed numbered; “I gave away all the guitars I had on that tour. I still have about 60 guitars in storage, and I’ll pick up the guitar at least five minutes everyday just to make sure my fingers are still working. But after the last tour I didn’t touch one for almost a year. I have absolutely no desire to perform ever again. Every time I go to a show now I think to myself, ‘Thank God I don’t have to stand on that stage!’ Could that change? Anything is possible, but for now, I will just play a song or two for a benefit if asked.”
What a time it is to be a KISS fan; the band is currently embarking on their End of the Road tour well through 2021, and, a new book about the band’s non-makeup years titled Take it Off: KISS Truly Unmasked by Greg Prato was recently released by Jawbone Press.
Recently I was able to talk with former KISS (and current Grand Funk Railroad) guitarist Bruce Kulick, who spent 12 years with the former during said “unmasked” era from 1984-1996. The first thing I wanted to know was what his thoughts were on Prato’s new book, to which he said, “It’s very in-depth and informative. There’s a lot of interest in my era (with the band) lately, so it’s great timing for Mr. Prato.”
I also asked Bruce how it was recently playing the KISS Kruise IX, and he says; “It’s always a perfect fit, KISS fans that know I will serve up a huge buffet of my era with the band. The guys in my band are total pros, and amazing to work with. And doing the Animalize medley was so much fun…the press really jumped on it!”
I had to know what Bruce’s favorite KISS albums – both with and without him – were. He informed me; “I think Destroyer was my favorite. It has so many good songs on it. And although I do have highlights from each LP I did with the band, I do feel Revenge is a great album.”
I was also curious if Kulick ever felt left out at all being one of only two members of KISS to never don their famous makeup (the other being former guitarist Mark St. John, R.I.P.), to which he replied, “Not a big deal to me at all. It was the way it was meant to be.”
Some might not realize that in addition to guitar, Bruce is also a talented keyboard player. I asked him if he was self-taught, and he tells me, “I did take keyboard lessons in my late teenage years, and it is a great instrument. I should play it more!”
Of course I asked how things were with his current band, Grand Funk Railroad, as well. Bruce says, “Pretty amazing. The band in its current version is going on 20 years. Great players, and we all get along, so that helps! We know how fortunate we are to be performing in the “September” of our years (laughs)!”
With the final days of KISS also coming to a close, I asked Bruce how he felt about the band retiring, and if he had any plans to possibly join them at some point on their farewell tour. Bruce tells me, “I am happy for them to go out big. No firm plans are actually made yet for me sitting in, but I think it’s a strong possibility, especially for their last show.”
And finally, Bruce informed me what else might be in store for him in 2020; “I did recently discuss with ESP Guitars doing more guitar clinics, and I hope to record with my KISS Kruise band this year, I think fans would love that.” Visit Bruce’s site at http://www.BruceKulick.com to keep up to date with everything Bruce is up to.
You might say Jack Russell has defined what it means to be a down and dirty, hard livin’, 80s rocker; he co-founded Great White (along with guitarist Mark Kendall) more than four decades ago, and since then has experienced nearly ever high and low imaginable that the rock and roll lifestyle has to offer. Yet he still fought his way back on to the scene with his version of the band he helped create so long ago (hence the name Jack Russell’s Great White, while Kendall and co. are still performing as a separate version of Great White with another singer).
Recently Russell just had back surgery, but he’ll still be here to rock central, FL this upcoming Saturday, November 16. I was recently able to briefly speak with Jack via email, and asked him to elaborate on said surgery, to which he said, “After all of these years jumping around on stage, my spine had become very compressed. Basically they drilled two of my vertebrae out to make more room for the spinal cord. I’m getting ready to do my first show back in Orlando this weekend, so I doubt I’ll be doing backflips or cartwheels on stage (laughs)! But the band moves around enough, and I’ll let my voice do the talking. I feel great and I’m singing like I’m 25 again…now I sure hope I don’t suck (laughs)!”
With so much material to choose from, I asked Jack what Orlando fans can expect to hear on Saturday night, which he tells me; “I don’t want to give away the set, but let’s just say it’s not going to be the same one people have heard before. We’ve been changing songs, putting new ones in, taking old ones out. I’m sure people who have been coming to see us for a long time don’t wanna hear the same old songs every night, albeit there are still ones that people will always want to hear, like “Rock Me,” “Once Bitten Twice Shy,” etc…
I was also curious what one of his personal favorite songs to perform after all these years was, and he explained; “There are so many, and I change my mind from month to month, but “Save Your Love” is still probably my favorite song.” Ironically, my next question was actually whether or not he still got chills while performing a song like “Save Your Love,” to which he said; “Speaking of “Save Your Love!” Yes, I still get chills when performing that song, and when I sing it I find myself in a very personal space, not really aware of the audience. It’s more of a spiritual thing if you know what I mean.”
Jack also assures me the band has some new material in the works, as well as an autobiography he’s been working on that I asked him how it was coming along; “It’s coming along great, but when I read some of the chapters, even I can’t believe my life, it reads like a work of fiction (laughs!). But for the most part it’s been one hell of a life, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
I was more than grateful that Jack was willing to take the time to speak to me for this interview, and let him know how much I truly appreciated it. Be sure to catch Jack and the guys in Downtown Orlando this Saturday, the 16th!
Phil Varone’s lengthy career as a drummer began over 30 years ago, when he made the switch from New York to South Florida in the early-’80s and eventually became a founding member of Saigon Kick in 1988. The band would go on to achieve some moderate success (best known for their 1992 hit power balled “Love is on the Way”) and release a few albums in the mid-’90s before Varone would move on to other bands such as Prunella Scales, Skid Row, and briefly, Vince Neil’s solo band. He’s also done his share of acting, produced and starred in a documentary revolving around his touring lifestyle, and released a memoir in 2013.
Last year, Phil hooked up with legendary guitarist Jake E. Lee’s current project, Red Dragon Cartel, who released their most recent album, Patina, shortly after. This past March, he officially announced he was hanging up his drumsticks for (most likely) the last time. Last week, I spoke to Phil from his Vegas home regarding how it feels to be retired now, after playing what may be his final show ever with Red Dragon Cartel in Japan last month. Even after saying goodbye to music, Phil’s outlook was undeniably upbeat.
“It’s bittersweet,” he instantly tells me before saying; “I’ve just been going back through my career and remembering the good times, trying to keep everything as positive as possible. When you’re in this business there’s a lot of negative stuff, and I didn’t want to dwell on any of that. But things didn’t really hit me until the last note of our last show in Japan, which was a little sad, but overall I’m happy the way things have turned out.”
From there I asked Phil what he’ll occupy most of his newfound free time doing, to which he tells me; “There’s a couple reasons why I wanted to stop drumming, one of them is health. I turn 52 this year, and in all honesty, it hurts. I don’t remember drums being this painful, but they just put a lot of wear and tear on my body after all the years. And the second reason is I’m about halfway through a book I’m writing about my father as well, and have a couple of screenplays and other things I’m working on, too. So it’s going to be a lot of writing for me, which I really enjoy doing. I expressed a lot of my anger and happiness on the drums; what you hear through drumming, is an expression, a therapy. I’m able now to use words in its place instead. And plus it doesn’t hurt to type (laughs). I’ll still be busy doing things, I just won’t be playing drums on tour and stuff like that anymore.”
Throughout our conversation we also took a trip down memory lane, going over many of his most memorable milestones. I asked Phil what it was like being in a rock band during the ’80s in the unlikely place of Ft. Lauderdale, FL, to which he replied; “It was kind of weird. We had never been to L.A. or anything, we were just a bunch of punk kids who had this dream of getting a record deal…when I think about it now, the fact we ever got one is still astounding! There was no scene there, especially when we started. The only band that was doing well around there at all was Miami Sound Machine over in Miami. But we came on to the circuit and just destroyed it, because we were different, so we just took over the music scene within our first year. Brian Warner (who would later go on to be known as Marilyn Manson) was also a huge early supporter of us at the time, too.”
He goes on to elaborate more on the early days of Saigon Kick, which would include crossing paths for the first time with future band Skid Row; “Our first show was for maybe 30 people -which was mostly just our friends and family – and within a year we were selling out the biggest club there at the time called The Button South. By doing that, we had every slot opening for all the national bands coming through town, like Bonham and Faith No More. There was another club called Summers on the Beach, and ironically, Skid Row was playing there back in ’89, and we tried everything to get ourselves on the opening spot! As it turned out, (Skid Row bassist) Rachel Bolan’s tech Ronzo would tell Jason Flom at Atlantic Records about us. Around that same time, we won the South Florida Music Awards, and because of that there was a blurb of us in Billboard Magazine, which ended up on Jason’s desk. And the rest is history. ”
I also wondering how performing power ballads such as “Love is on the Way” was from a drummer’s perspective. Phil informs me; “As a drummer, I learned a long time ago that it’s not what you play, but what you don’t play within a song. “Love is on the Way” is a prime example. I tried different grooves and nothing seemed to sound good until I just went simple. A song like this live might be boring for a drummer, but for me, it gave me a few minutes to rest. Any song that is a hit like that or “I Remember You” will always connect you with the audience. I would get goosebumps during those songs seeing fans with lighters in the air, or the arena singing back to you. It’s an amazing feeling.”
When asked how his relationship with his former bandmates was these days, he informs me; “Some of the guys I do still talk to, like (Saigon Kick bassist) Chris McLernon, who is by far one of my best friends in the world. And I’ll speak to (former Saigon Kick bassist) Tom Defile sometimes as well, but the other guys…I’ll just say we’re cordial. There’s no hatred there or anything, but I try to keep everything as positive as possible, and think about the good times, because there was so much good stuff throughout my whole career, from Saigon Kick to Skid Row, which was the best part of my life.”
Seeing this as the perfect segue to talk about his years with Skid Row, I asked Phil how the gig with them was originally offered to him; “I first met them (Skid Row) when they came down to South, FL to record in 1990. Michael Wagner, who produced their first record, also produced our (Saigon Kick’s) first album. Then years later, (Skid Row bassist) Rachel Bolan and I had a band together called Prunella Scales in 1997. Not long after they had gotten back together in ’99, their drummer at the time, Charlie Mills – who’s just a tremendous guy – was having problems with passports and getting out of the country, and they had a lot of shows booked outside of the U.S. So it just wasn’t working out for them, and they ended up calling me. I basically did a crash course, learning 20 of their songs in just a few days, and flying out to hop on their tour with KISS in Canada. I went from sitting around my house wondering what I was gonna do next with my life, to Rachel calling me, which kind of saved my life. My mother had just passed away shortly before that, too, so joining that band was kind of like my therapy in a sense.”
During a break with Skid Row, he even toured briefly as a member of Vince Neil’s solo band, which he reflected on to me; “Vince was a good bud, and he called me to do just like a three week tour for him. I just saw it as like a paid vacation, because it was just fun to play Motley Crue songs and hang out with my friends!”
Fast forward to 2018, when, after being out of music for several years, Phil was invited to play in his most recent position with legendary guitarist Jake E. Lee’s band Red Dragon Cartel. He explains how that came about; “That was through a buddy of mine, Scott (Wilson, bassist of Saving Abel). He gave me a call one day, asking me if I could play like this drummer or that drummer. It was actually kind of funny, but eventually I just said, ‘Look, who’s it for?!’ (Laughs). He finally tells me it’s RDC, and before I know it, their bassist Anthony (Eposito) sent me two of their songs to learn to play. I immediately bought a plane ticket, because I was hungry to play, and Jake would later tell me that was what impressed them most, how eager I was to learn their songs. And Jake is one of the best guitar players I’ve ever played with in my life, he’s just so damn good, that it’s intimidating going in. But he’s still one of the nicest, most down-to-Earth guys I’ve ever met, and I’m proud to call him a friend.”
Although he’s put down his drumsicks, at least in the sense of a live setting, Phil’s not completely ruling out the occasional ‘one off’ show or album guest appearance. He tells me, “I think 30 years of playing drums is long enough. I’m really proud of what I’ve put out there, and I’m forever grateful for that.” Be sure to follow Phil on social media, and at https://www.philvarone.com/ to keep up to date on future endeavors.