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.
There’s no doubt I’ve done my fair share of interviews with various celebrities over the past ten-plus years since I first started doing music journalism; some are easier to feel a sort of personal connection to than others, as though you’ve known them your entire life after watching them virtually grow up before your eyes. Danny Cooksey is hands down one of those celebrities for me, and in a very indirect sort of way, I even have him to thank for my lifelong love of heavy metal music (but more on that later).
As a child in the ’80s, I watched a young Danny on one of my favorite sitcoms at the time, Diff’rent Strokes. Then as a teen in the ’90s, I watched as he embodied the ultimate teen-aged slacker in such unforgettable roles as Budnick on the classic Nickelodeon TV show Salute Your Shorts. Recently, I was able to speak to Danny from his home in California, where we covered not only many of the previously-mentioned roles he’s taken on over the years, but also what he’s up to these days – which may come as a surprise to many of you.
These days Danny lives a more modest, family man-type of life, taking his son to school every morning before coming home to tackle either voice-over work, or teach acting lessons (the vast majority of which he actually teaches one-on-one online). As far as teaching goes he tells me; “I believe that each person has their own sort of individual process as far as what they want to accomplish with their needs and goals with acting. One thing I try to focus a lot on is the audition process, because even if you’re the best actor in the world, that’s a whole different monster in itself.”
One of the first things I wanted to know regarding Danny’s past was how he felt when he comes across an old episode of one of the many shows he’s been in; “You know, it’s funny, there’s certain memories that are seared in your brain, while others kind of meld together. I remember when my my daughter was younger she found an old VHS tape with Diff’rent Strokes on it, and I had no recollection at all of the plot line or anything. It was sort of this odd, out-of-body experience, but it’s pretty interesting. I don’t really sit around watching myself often or anything, but every once in awhile something will come on that I’ll catch, and I just kind of have to pinch myself and say, ‘Wow, how did I ever even end up in that situation?!’ (Laughs).”
Of course I couldn’t help but ask Danny how he reacts when called Budnick (without a doubt one of his most memorable roles) these days, to which he replied; “You know, I still think it’s awesome! But I actually have more people asking me what high school I went to and trying to figure out where they know me from more than I get called Budnick (laughs).”
Music has also played a heavy role throughout Danny’s career as well. As a child, he took a try at singing country music before later switching it up to rock, briefly fronting the band Bad4Good in the early ’90s, who released one album (Refugee) in 1992 before ultimately dissolving. I asked Danny how he felt looking back on that project now, to which he replied; “I’m still so proud of that record. We worked really hard on it, but it was a really weird time in music, and it seemed like things were just changing by the minute. I feel like if it were released a few years earlier that record might’ve been a little more successful than it was. Or maybe it would’ve been something totally different if it were released a year later (laughs)! But it was an amazing experience for sure.”
But if there’s one thing I really wanted to ask Danny about, it was the scene in the 1991 film Terminator 2: Judgement Day where he and co-star Edward Furlong were seen blasting the then-new Guns N’ Roses hit “You Could Be Mine.” Although I already knew of several hard rock/heavy metal bands and songs before that (including even ones by GN’R), it would be the first “rock” song I’d ever physically own in any way (and on cassette of course!), and I credit that as the moment I instantly fell in love with an entire genre. So I had to ask Danny whether or not he was a GN’R fan prior to the filming of that scene (as well as thank him for the role he played in my introduction to the song that quite literally changed my life), to which he said; “Oh yeah, I was definitely a big fan! I had actually seen the original lineup on tour with The Rolling Stones in like ’88, and they were just awesome!”
He goes on to elaborate on the inclusion of the song in the film; “When we were in the early stages of filming, I was given a cassette of the music that was going to be used in the scene. Originally it was going to be 2 songs, and I believe they were “Higher Ground” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers and “I Wanna Be Sedated” by the Ramones, which were, you know, both fine. But at some point I got handed another cassette, and it was an advanced copy of “You Could Be Mine,” in which case I thought I was just the coolest person on the planet since the record wasn’t even out yet! (Laughs).”
As if all these accomplishments were not enough, Danny is still involved in making music to this day, currently performing in a project that helps raise proceeds for abused animals called Shelter Dogs, who self-released an album, Take Me Home, in 2015 (which ironically was co-produced by acclaimed Guns N’ Roses producer Mike Clink), and are currently in the process of writing a brand new album. Be sure to look out for more material from them soon, but in the meantime you can still check out their previously released music on Spotifiy, ITunes, and of course YouTube. And those interested in his acting classes can also reach Danny at: https://www.dcacting.com/.
Tommy Stinson has truly had the kind of career most aspiring musicians only ever dream about (and as one of the many bassists he’s influenced over the decades, I’m speaking from experience). In the early ’80s, he was a founding member of pioneering indie rockers The Replacements, a band that remains a personal favorite of mine to this very day. After their dissolution in the early ’90s, he briefly formed the alternative bands Bash & Pop and Perfect, before joining Guns N’ Roses (another personal fav of yours truly’s) in 1998, stepping in for departed bassist Duff McKagan – a role he occupied until McKagan’s eventual return to the band in 2016.
And if all that wasn’t enough, he’s also done time with ’90s rockers Soul Asylum, and in more recent years, he’s kept busy with semi-recent reunions of both The Replacements, and Bash & Pop, as well as released the occasional solo material. Stinson also has yet another new project called Cowboys in the Campfire that he’s working on, and next month will be embarking on a solo tour with The Lemonheads. Last week, I was able to actually catch up with Stinson over the phone while at his New York home regarding the upcoming tour, where we discussed his many past, present, and future endeavors.
I immediately asked Stinson if he had played with The Lemonheads prior to said upcoming tour, to which he said; “First time playing solo shows with them, yeah, but I did some shows with them when I was playing bass with Soul Asylum for awhile, maybe 10 years ago or so.” Tommy also says fans can expect to hear a little of everything on these shows; “I’ll probably lean a little more on my solo records and Bash & Pop stuff. I might even include some of my new stuff I’m working on with Cowboys in the Campfire, so a little bit of everything.”
As far as what songs Tommy still enjoys playing live, he tells me he’s really excited to get some of these new Cowboys in the Campfire songs out there. He also says, “A lot of the Bash & Pop stuff really translates well with an acoustic. There’s always “Friday Night (Is Killing Me)” and “Nothing” from that first album, those are always fun to play, and I can usually get a rise out of people and myself with them.”
I also had to ask what it was like being a part of the long-delayed 2008 Guns N’ Roses album Chinese Democracy, one of the most talked about (and expensive) rock records ever made, to which he said; “You know, I have a few favorite moments on that record, I suppose one of them would be “There Was a Time.” It got to the point where we were rehashing things so much, and then they kind of went to the meat grinder and they sound like they sound now. It would be cool if one day it actually came out in a more raw form without all of the bells and whistles that were kind of heaped on top of it, you know?”
We ended our conversation on what’s in store for Tommy in the near future, to which he said; “With a little luck, I’ll be finishing up this Cowboys in the Campfire record, and after that hopefully starting to work on a new Bash & Pop album, probably by the end of the summer.” I also asked if there were any hopes at all of seeing another Replacements reunion after their last run ended in 2015; “I don’t really know if there’s any need or want for it anymore after we did that last bit. I haven’t really talked to Paul (Westerburg) in awhile and I’m not sure what he’s thinking right now. Never say never, but it looks like that last run might have been the last one.”
At the time of this writing, the closest Tommy will be coming to Florida on this upcoming tour with The Lemonheads is Atlanta, but you can keep up to date on tour dates, and everything else Tommy is up to at http://www.tommystinson.com, and via social media.
You’ve seen him onstage with such rock giants as Ozzy Osbourne and Billy Idol. Now, legendary bassist Phil Soussan has stepped in the shoes for the late Jimmy Bain (R.I.P.) in Last in Line – the band made up of former Dio bandmates that originally included Bain, guitarist Vivian Campbell, drummer Vinnie Appice, and newcomer Andrew Freeman on vocals.
Last week, the band dropped their second studio album (and first with Soussan on board) simply titled II. Just days before its release I was able to speak with the ever-so-gracious Soussan over the phone about the new album, as well as taking over for the previously-mentioned Bain shortly after the band’s first album, which he says; “Well, I never really considered myself ‘taking over’ for Jimmy when I came in. It just seemed like the right thing to do for him, to at least perform that album, because he worked really hard on it, and I know it meant a lot to him. Jimmy was also a friend of mine that I knew for a very long time. We were all counterparts in our respective bands, cut from the same cloth. So I felt privileged to be able to get out there and honor him by playing those songs and bringing them to the fans. That was something I could do for my friend.”
Knowing Soussan is no stranger to songwriting himself (perhaps his best known writing credit is co-composing Ozzy’s 1986 hit “Shot in the Dark”), I inquired how the songwriting for II went, which he explained; “We wrote songs in what’s considered today to be a very unconventional way…together (Laughs). These days everybody has their own studio next to their coffee machines, but we did it collectively, as a unit. All of the songs were written equally between the four of us, which is why there’s no individual songwriting credits, and that’s how things really should be done.”
I also asked him how the new material has been going over so far live, to which he says; “Well, when you have bands together that have been established over many years (I like to call them “heritage bands”), a lot of the time you do have people that go to their shows just to hear the hits that they’ve grown to love, and the band doesn’t really get a fair crack at the whip when it comes to new material. Usually when the band says, ‘here’s a new song,’ everybody heads to the bathroom. But in our case, we’ve been very fortunate that the fans have wanted to hear new material, and we don’t take that lightly or for granted at all, and it’s probably the reason we’re still doing what we’re doing.”
He goes on to elaborate, “I’ve done a lot of records, and by the time you’re finished recording one, the last thing you wanna do is listen to it again. But every time I listen to this one, I hear something new I rediscover, and for that reason I have an element of confidence in it, and hopefully I’m right (Laughs)!”
Aside from music, Soussan, has also tried his hand at cooking over the years, having even owned his own restaurant in the past. I asked how he got involved with local Central, FL rocker Kenny Wilkerson’s upcoming cookbook “Rockin’ Recipes for Autism,” and he says; “Ken had basically contacted me asking if I would be interested in submitting something. I thought it was for a great cause, and cooking is something that is very near and dear to me, so it was something I jumped on right away.”
Unfortunately there are no Florida dates for Last in Line at the time of this writing, though those in other parts of the world will have a chance to catch the band in the very near future. Soussan informs me, “We’re very excited to have just gotten announced on the Download Festival in Britain this June. Vivian’s going to be doing double-duty that day, headlining with Def Leppard. The last time I played there was in 1986 (when it was still known as “Monsters of Rock) when Ozzy headlined, and the band opening for us at the time was Def Leppard, so it’s funny how life kinda flip things around on you sometimes!”
Tony Harnell may not be as big of a household name as fellow rock frontmen like Ozzy Osbourne or Axl Rose, but he has no doubt earned his own rightful place among the best of them. In the mid-80’s, Tony began his on-again-off-again relationship with Norwegian headbangers TNT (with whom he recently severed ties with again in 2017). Fans may also remember he briefly fronted New Jersey hard rockers Skid Row for some time in 2015 as well.
But Tony has also built a large portfolio of solo work and side projects from over the years too, including Starbreaker, a project he started alongside Primal Fear guitarist Magnus Karlsson in the mid-2000’s that was recently resurrected for a brand new album, Dysphoria. Last week, I had the pleasure to speak with Tony via telephone regarding his current, past, and even future projects.
When I spoke to Tony last Wednesday afternoon, he had just gotten back from playing some shows in Europe and was battling a cold he caught while there. Still, he describes the trip as “amazing,” having just played a rock cruise with fellows icons such as Joe Lynn Turner and Michael Monroe.
When asked how he felt the reception has been so far for Dysphoria, Tony tells me, “The initial response has been overwhelmingly positive, which is always really great. ” I also asked if one could say there was a running theme throughout the album, for which he tells me, “Yeah, it occurred to me there was to a degree. When I write songs I just write what I’m feeling on any given day, and the emotion of that moment is what comes through in the lyrics. It definitely has a strong theme to it, and I like to kind of leave that open to interpretation. I think the record has got this beautifully sad quality to it. It’s definitely not a downer record by any means, but I think it has a theme on it that a lot of people can relate to. It does focus heavily on things that were going on for me at the time, and those things are definitely there and can’t be denied.”
I asked Tony if Starbreaker would become his main focus now that he’s no longer with TNT, to which he responded;”Outside of the fact that I still want to put out solo stuff and tour for that, I’d have to say “yes.” At this point Starbreaker’s what I’d call an important project to me for sure though. I would love it to become a full-on band, because I do think the demand is there for us to play shows, and I can see us performing maybe twenty, thirty shows a year, so we’ll have to see. But this record was really important to me because I haven’t released any new material in over 6 years (which is the longest I’ve gone without releasing new music), since I put out the acoustic EP I did with Bumblefoot from Guns N’ Roses called Tony Harnell and the Wildflowers. I guess in some ways you can say Dysphoria’s – and I hate to use this word – a comeback album, at least recording-wise, since I’ve still been touring a lot.”
I also wanted to known how he felt regarding his tenure with Skid Row in hindsight; “I think I would take my time more to just absorb what it was first, and I think I’m in very different, much healthier place in my life now than when I went into the Skid Row situation. So I think I would make better decisions from beginning to end if that type of situation were to present itself again.”
Aside from the new Starbreaker album, Tony tells me there’s a few more things to come in the near future; “TNT has a new DVD coming out in March which will be the last thing with me on it, which was filmed in Italy in 2017. But more than anything I’m focused on making new music right now, and getting out and playing shows.” Be sure to follow Tony on social media to find when and where he may be coming to a city near you (you do NOT want to miss the chance to catch him live!).
It’s been over a decade since the last time the guys in Stabbing Westward passed through Central, FL. But next month, the band will be hitting the stage at the House of Blues in Orlando on February 17 for the first time since disbanding in 2002.
I had a chance to chat with keyboardist and founding member Walter Flakus recently, who elaborated with me regarding the long gap; “Now that I think about it, we haven’t played a show in Florida since 2001! The closest would’ve been when (Stabbing Westward side project) The Dreaming played Sanford in 2015.”
Flakus went on to tell me more about Stabbing Westward’s recent reformation; “It really goes back to when (lead vocalist) Christopher (Hall) and I rekindled our friendship in 2014 when his father passed away. We started trading musical ideas, which led to me joining The Dreaming and contributing to the Rise Again album. While touring on that record, Marcus came out to play some SW songs at the Chicago (the band’s hometown) show. It really felt great being on the stage together again. In 2016, Jason and Kelly Novak floated the idea of SW playing the pre-party for the Coldwaves festival in Chicago, and we thought, ‘Let’s see if anyone still cares.’ The show sold out in 3 minutes, and it just kept building from there.”
I also asked why former bassist Jim Sellers has been noticeably absent for the entirety of the reunion, for which he tells me; Christopher and I talked to Jim about playing some SW shows before the Coldwaves show was proposed. I think he has a lot of projects that he’s working on, and playing shows didn’t really fit. So we turned to Carlton (Bost), who plays guitar in The Dreaming, as well as Orgy. He’s been a great fit.”
Flakus also assures me fans can expect to hear a wide range of songs these days in their set lists; “Of course there’s certain songs which have to be included because they were singles or fan favorites. Recently we’ve been playing most of Darkest Days in order, which has been really great. We’re constantly working up new things to add to the set. This year is the 25th anniversary of Ungod, so we may spend some time focusing on that later this year.” He also tells me new material is not too far off; “We have a bunch of songs we’re currently working on. Hopefully we’ll get something out later this year.”
Be sure not to miss the chance to catch Stabbing Westward at their Orlando show next month…it’s sure to be worth the wait!
Where does one even begin when trying to explain a band with as much history as Raven? Formed in Newcastle, England by brothers John (vocals/bass) and Mark Gallagher (guitar) all the way back in 1974, the two have kept the band going since the formative years of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal scene (or NWOBHM) along with a succession of drummers. So it was truly a thrill to get a chance to pick the the brain of long time front man John Gallagher regarding the band’s upcoming live release, Screaming Murder Death From Above: Live From Aalborg.
When asked how said new recording came about, John tells me; “Well…it was an accident! We had no idea we were being recorded! Back “in the day” as they say, a live recording was a tedious affair with many extra microphones and much checking & testing…nowadays a digital multitrack recording can be made direct off the stage! We came off stage from our show in Aalborg Denmark & the soundman gave Mike a memory stick & said ” here you go!” We never even got to check it until after the tour & we were blown away..this recording really captured the energy of our live show!”
I also had to ask how the band decides on what songs to play live these days, for which he had to say; “That’s a tough one. You always want some continuity and there will be a few songs you will always want to play…and are expected to play! Since Mike has come on board we are changing things up, and did so pretty much immediately by adding some older songs we had not done in ages, such as “Hell Patrol” and ” Hung Drawn & Quartered.” And we have been playing a brand new, unreleased song as well, ” Top of the Mountain,” so it’s a bit of a balancing act!”
In 2017, longtime drummer Joe Hasselvander unfortunately suffered from a career-ending heart attack. I asked John if he knew the status of his former bandmate, for which he said; “I’m assuming he’s doing well, we have not been in touch for some time. He is where he needs to be, and where he wants to be, which is at home with his family. The split was an upcoming thing as he really was done with touring and the heart attack was a wake up call for him to change things…we of course wish him nothing but the best.”
After several fill-in’s, the band finally settled on Fear Factory drummer Mike Heller to take the place behind the drum kit. John informs me,”Mike’s quite a force of nature and has been a real shot in the arm…he brings astounding technical prowess & bags of enthusiasm. He is a lot younger than us old dogs (lol), and although we have some common ground, he has a different set of influences and is bringing a lot of cool ideas to the table!”
And finally, I asked John if the band had plans to get back in to the recording studio in the near future; “Yes! We basically have the new album in the can after a lot of stop/start nonsense over last year. We do need to tweak a few small parts such as an intro here & there and then mix the album. The live album is a great bridge between the last album and the upcoming new one. We really have lifted the bar yet again on this new one in regards to pretty much everything, the songs, the playing, the energy…we are excited!!!! Hopefully this will be out late 2019.”
In the ’80s, Canada produced a number of notable metal acts (Exciter, Annihilator, Anvil, etc…), each admirable in their own right. Now a new breed of bands have slowly taken over as the kings of the Great White North, including Striker, Cauldron, and Skull Fist (among others). I was recently able to speak with Skull Fist singer/guitarist Zach Slaughter, who was more than just a little stoked about the band’s upcoming 3rd album, Way of the Road about to be released later this month after nearly a 4 year gap in between albums; “Dude. seriously right?! It’s almost weird to have this album coming out now, although the songs were written some time ago, I am already bored of them and have gotten the 4th album written.. so…forget this one everyone? (Laughs). We spent a lot of time just waiting to see if my voice would heal (almost 3 years), so in the meantime I was always writing a lot more music.”
When asked where Way of the Road was recorded and if the songwriting was a group effort, Zach says, “Well a lot of the songs I had already written a while back. The album was supposed to be released almost 3 years ago but because of all the voice surgery issues I had, I was forced to keep waiting. We recorded it at the same place we did the 2nd album, with Eric Ratz at Vespa Studio in Toronto. He’s real good at this stuff man, any sound you’re looking for he can nail it. I’m really happy with how he got this stuff going. I usually write the tunes but the boys are always around to give some input. “Witch Hunt” was actually a riff from Jonny, and it was JJ’s idea to write a swing song on this record. You can thank Casey for the title of the album as well.”
The band is also about to take Way of the Road on the road. Regarding it, Zach informs me, “Yeah man, going to do that whole worldwide crap again. That sounds lame when I say it like that (laughs), but basically we will go out to all the places we have gone in the past. Right now we will do the Euro thing with Striker from Canada as well. That’ll be in November, the dates should be out by the time people read this. After that we’ll get a South American tour going, after that North America, then after that, I’ll probably break another bone skateboarding? (Laughs).
When it comes to playing the new songs live, Zach says the tracks he is most looking forward to playing include “No More Running,” Stay True,” and “Way of the Road.” “I think those ones are a bit more enjoyable for me playing live, but its hard to say what songs will wind up as live staple tracks, you know? Just gotta play ’em out for a while and see what happens. I’m still stoked on a few of the old tracks as well, “Ride On” always feels right when I’m playing it live. I never know which songs people will like the most though, my predictions for the 1st and 2nd album were wayyyyy off (Laughs)!
Since 1985, Kenny Wilkerson has been keeping the flames lit for Florida-based hard rockers Nova Rex. And for the first time since 1992, original vocalist Kevin Tetz will be joining the band onstage later this month, right here in good old Daytona Beach at the Hard Rock Hotel on Friday, Sept. 28.
I recently spoke with Wilkerson about all of the current endeavors he has going on both in, and out of Nova Rex. Regarding Tetzs’ return, he says, “I just told him, why don’t you just come on down, split the time with (current Nova Rex singer) Adrian [Adonis], and see how it goes?! And sure enough, he was cool with it.” Current Nova Rex guitarist Greg Polcari, and newcomer Shawn “Sawbladehead” Lowery (drums) will be on board for the party as well.
Many of you may actually recognize Tetz from his work on such shows as Spike TV’s Trucks. And while it’s doubtful he will be sporting the same spandex pants he did for the band’s 1987 video “Turn It Up Loud,” you can be sure to hear such songs as that, as well as many other well-known numbers from the band’s early catalog like “Bring the House Down” and “Think of Me.”
Fellow ‘80s rockers Pretty Boy Floyd – perhaps best remembered for their hits “I Wanna Be With You” and “Rock and Roll (Is Gonna Set the Night on Fire)” (both off their 1989 debut Leather Boyz with Electric Toyz) – will be kicking off the sure to be wild evening.
Directly following the Hard Rock Hotel show, Nova Rex will be playing the 6th Annual ‘80s in the Park show the following day at the Space Coast Harley-Davidson in Palm Bay. The band will go on at approximately 5pm on Sat., the 29th, and as Kenny explains, “It’s sure to be a long weekend for us!”
As if that wasn’t enough, Wilkerson also wrote a soon-to-be-released cookbook. He explains; “It’s called Rockin’ Recipes for Autism, Vol. 1, and I have over seventy rockers lending their own recipes for it, including Rikki Rockett from Poison, and Frankie Banali from Quiet Riot (just to name a few). I’ve been working on it for about 3 years off and on, and the money from the book is going to go to a charity called We Rock For Autism. I’m sure as soon as the book comes out I’ll end up somewhere on the Food Channel (Laughs)!”
Be sure to catch Kenny and the guys from Nova Rex at one (or both) of the previously mentioned shows, as well as check out his upcoming cookbook…all of which are sure to have you banging your head, one way or another!