Album Review: Hollywood Vampires – Rise (earMUSIC)

Hollywood

By: Jesse Striewski

This assembly of some of rock’s most elite members (featuring Alice Cooper, Joe Perry, and even the one and only Johnny Depp) further proves the Hollywood Vampires are not simply another throwaway project. Surprisingly, the most sub-par thing found here on their second effort is just the unfortunate album cover design.

The interesting thing about these guys is their sound doesn’t sway in just one direction, but rather showcases all of it’s members many influences equally. “I Want My Now” kicks things off purposefully, while heavy-Alice inspired tracks like  “Who’s Laughing Now,” “We Gotta Rise,” and “Mr. Spider” all lead the charge.

A handful of surprising covers also make their way in; Johnny Thunders’ “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory” and the Jim Carroll Band’s “People Who Died” are worthy entries, while their take on David Bowie’s “Heroes” is slightly less exciting. All in all, Rise is one of the better albums to be released so far this year.

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

Album Review: Sammy Hagar & The Circle – Space Between (BMG)

Sammy Hagar

By: Jesse Striewski

I remember a time when it wasn’t considered “cool” to like anything other than the David Lee Roth-era of Van Halen (how foolish). In recent years, I’ve come to have a better  appreciation for Sammy Hagar’s material both in and out of VH, and Space Between definitely helps expand said appreciation further.

Hagar’s latest effort with The Circle (which also features ex-Van Halen bassist Michael Anthony, former Busboys guitarist Vic Johnson, and renowned drummer Jason Bonham, soon of Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham) offers plenty for everyone. Tracks like “Devil Came to Philly” and “Bottom Line” are standout rockers, while “Wide Open Spaces” lends a softer side. A video for “Trust Fund Baby” is also worth a watch, though it’s one of the weaker songs on the album.

If nothing else, this debut studio effort from The Circle is stronger than any of the material released from Hagar’s previous project, Chickenfoot. At the very least, give it a try.

Rating: 3/5 Stars

 

Book Review: Playing Back the 80s – A Decade of Unstoppable Hits By Jim Beviglia (Rowan & Littlefield)

80s Book

By Jesse Striewski

If ever there was an appropriate book for Rewind It Magazine, Jim Beviglia’s Playing Back the 80s has got to be it. Throughout the book, Beviglia chronicles his personal favorite songs of the decade, giving intriguing, often new insight on many classic songs.

Along the way, Beviglia interviews the numerous artists, songwriters, or producers who were behind the making of the music itself, and all lend their versions of just how the songs actually came together. There’s plenty of never-before-heard stories that any fan of 1980’s culture should find a decent amount of interest in.

Iconic numbers you would expect such as Rick Springfield’s “Jessie’s Girl,” Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger,” and Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin'” are all analyzed appropriately. But there’s even several profiled tracks that aren’t necessarily your average go-to’s, such as “She’s a Beauty” by The Tubes, “Talking in Your Sleep” by The Romantics, and even Jan Hammer’s “Original Miami Vice Theme” (just to name a few), all of which contain their own unique stories.

Sure, there are some questionable choices as well; Glen Frey’s “You Belong to the City” would have likely made a far more interesting song to cover than “Smuggler’s Blues.” And several notable artists from the decade are omitted completely, including Billy Idol, Cyndi Lauper, Tears for Fears, and even Oingo Boingo. Still, there’s no doubt Beviglia’s effort here is a labor of love, and worth the trip down memory lane for just about anyone with an appreciation for ’80s music.

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

Dio Returns at The Plaza Live in Orlando, FL on 6/1/19 – Words By Jesse Striewski/Photos By Brooke Striewski

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Ever since the Dio Returns tour had first been announced there’s been an abundance of backlash from some fans calling it a ‘cash grab’ (I’d almost guarantee most of those complaining are the same people who went to see Bohemian Rhapsody when it came out last year, too). You can write tours like this off as such (it should also be noted that some of the profits from the tour are allegedly going towards the Ronnie James Dio Stand Up and Shout Cancer Fund), or you can look at them the way I do; tributes meant to keep the memories alive of legends who rightfully deserve it. Ronnie James Dio was one such icon who I grew up admiring dearly, and unfortunately I was never able to see him perform live before his passing in 2010. The Dio Returns tour gives all those who never saw him the chance to finally experience his music live (and the last time I can remember looking forward to a tour as much as this much was probably when I caught the original lineup of one of Ronnie’s former bands, Black Sabbath, back in 2004).

Essentially, the band itself is one of two current versions of the Dio band that has been going for nearly ten years now (the other being Last in Line, with Vivian Campbell and Vinnie Appice at the helm) called Dio Disciples. This version of the band (which features Dio alumni Craig Goldy, Simon Wright, and Scott Warren) has been performing for years with multiple singers in place of Ronnie, including ex-Judas Priest/Iced Earth vocalist Tim “Ripper” Owens, and former Lynch Mob singer Oni Logan, who were both there trading off vocal duties (along with live recordings of Ronnie when his hologram was present) when the band came through The Plaza Live in Orlando this past Saturday, June 1.

Jizzy Pearl’s current incarnation of Love/Hate opened the show, and I was actually looking forward to finally catching Pearl live as well after interviewing him for Rewind It Magazine just last year (I found it strange however that none of the material from Pearl’s recent album that I interviewed him for made it into the set list).  At this point, the club was still fairly empty, and the band received only a modest response. But still, they played with all their might on tracks like “Straightjacket,” “Tumbleweed,” “Spinning Wheel,” “Fuel to Run,” “Mary Jane,” and “Wasted in America.” A seemingly set up (and awkward) moment found the band being told to leave the stage before declaring they were doing one more song, which ended up being “Blackout in the Red Room.”

After Pearl’s set, there was a sort of calm before the storm as the crowd sat anxiously to finally see what awaited them (this was only the second night of the tour, after all). It was quickly revealed as Ronnie’s hologram made its introduction by way of “King of Rock and Roll.” From there, it was one amazing moment after another from beginning to end.

A pair of Sabbath-era classics in the form of “Mob Rules” and “Children of the Sea,” sung by Owens and Logan, respectively, followed before Ronnie’s image made its way on the screen again for the classic Dio tracks “The Last in Line” and “Holy Diver.” After Owens belted out one more Dio classic (“Stand Up and Shout”), the stage was cleared for a drum solo by Wright, which was a tribute of sorts to Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture.

A tagged-team rendition of “Don’t Talk to Strangers” by Owens and Logan followed  before more Dio/Rainbow classics began making their way into the set, including “Rainbow in the Dark,” “Egypt (The Chains Are On),” “Gates of Babylon,” and “Invisible” (another duel effort from Owens and Logan). Goldy then treated the crowd to a guitar solo before a couple more Rainbow tracks (“Catch the Rainbow” and “Stargazer”) preceded an unforgettable version of Sabbath’s “Heaven and Hell” (which briefly segued into the classic “Man on the Silver Mountain”).

Owens and Logan then took the stage along with Ronnie’s hologram to close out the night on an epic note with “We Rock,” and finally (after a short reprieve) “Neon Knights.” The only thing I might have changed (other than include tracks like “Time to Burn” or anything off the Sacred Heart album in place of some of the other chosen tracks in the set, but that’s just my own personal taste!) would have been to market the tour itself a bit differently; even though the hologram does indeed play a prominent role, there’s so much more to the entire show than just that. Still, every person in attendance that night seemed to be in agreement of just how well-executed this show truly was.

After the show itself, my wife/photographer and I were extremely lucky to be invited backstage, where we were able to briefly meet and talk to every member of the band, as well as Dio’s own former wife, Wendy. It was apparent that this tour was a collective labor of love from all those involved, and the feelings resonating backstage were that of celebration, and triumph. And as far as all the closed-minded critics of the tour go, to quote Aesop; “The ignorant despise what is precious only because they cannot understand it.” I think if Ronnie were still here today, he would fully approve of what is being presented on stage in his honor right now.

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Interview with Drummer Phil Varone By Jesse Striewski

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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 LA 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. ”

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.

Album Review: Bad Religion – Age of Unreason (Epitaph Records)

Bad Religion

By: Jesse Striewski

Bad Religion were undoubtedly one of my favorite punk acts growing up, and many a summer was spent going to see them play at Warped Tour in my younger years. But with the current political climate, complete with hypocritical extremist groups on each side (including so-called, anti-fascist-yet-still-violent, far leftists), I was somewhat reluctant to even check out the band’s latest release (just to clarify, I’m a neutral person able to see flaws on both sides, I’m just not into bands who promote violence in any way), but after just one listen, I was instantly glad I gave it a chance.

Everything that’s ever made this band so great to begin with is still easily found here, seventeen albums in to their career. The thought-provoking (yet still not overly preachy), heartfelt lyrics, hook-laden guitars, and of course, the classic “Oohh’s” and “Aahh’s” the band is so well known for, are all present. Tracks like “What Tomorrow Brings,” “The Approach,” and the brilliant “Candidate,” are all perfect examples of what these guys still have to offer to humanity as a whole. Give it a listen with an open mind (something much of society has sadly forgotten how to do).

Rating: 3/5 Stars

Interview with Actor/Musician Danny Cooksey By Jesse Striewski

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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/.

-J.S.

Album Review: Crazy Lixx – Forever Wild (Frontiers Music s.r.l.)

Crazy Lixx

By: Jesse Striewski

I was just getting warmed up to these Swedish rockers when I reviewed their previous effort, 2017’s Ruff Justice. Now on their sixth full-length album, the band takes things to a higher level (quite literally).

“Wicked” kicks the album off with a promising start, leading way to more over-the-top anthems like “Breakout,” “(She’s Wearing) Yesterday’s Face,” and the epic “Never Die (Forever Wild).” Every track feels empowering in a positive way, and as though they could be inserted flawlessly in to just about any ’80s montage (see their latest, Top Gun-inspired video for “Silent Thunder”).

Crazy Lixx may have started out as a guilty pleasure for me, but now they’re pretty much everything I look for in a rock band these days. Sure their style may still invoke the party animal in the best of us; but what sets them apart from other bands in their field is the ability to not rely on raunchy themes or lyrics simply for shock value; I’ll take a band like them over the likes of Steel Panther any day.

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

 

Album Review: Whitesnake – Flesh & Blood (Frontiers Music s.r.l.)

Whitesnake

By: Jesse Striewski

I’m not really sure what’s more surprising; the fact I’m reviewing a new Whitesnake album in 2019, or the fact that it actually exceeds expectations. With so many bands from their era often not able to re-capture the same lightning in a bottle, Whitesnake are a definite exception.

The album’s first single, “Shut Up & Kiss Me,” was honestly a bit too generic to stir up much emotion for me. But the follow up single, “Hey You..You Make me Rock” definitely gets things back on the right track. There’s plenty of other rockers to get the party started, including “Good to See You Again,” “Trouble is Your Middle Name,” and my personal favorite off the album, “Well I Never.”

Of course there’s a couple of lighter moments as well; “Always & Forever,” “When I Think of You (Color Me Blue),” and The Beatles-inspired “After All,” which are all worthy of putting alongside any of the Snakes’ best power ballads. All in all, David Coverdale and company have assembled here 13 tracks more than just a little deserving of a listen that I might actually come back to hear again soon myself.

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

 

Album Review: Lord Dying – Mysterium Tremendum (Entertainment One)

Lord Dying

By: Jesse Striewski

Portland, Oregon’s Lord Dying first came across my radar while covering an Anvil show they were opening for a few years back. It’s no doubt been a minute not only since then, but since their most recent release 2015 release, Poisoned Alters, as well. After just one listen it’s apparent the guys have been hard at work honing their craft in the meantime.

It might have taken 4 years to get there, but the band seems to be reaching their peak here. This third effort follows the concept of (surprise!) death, with tracks such as “Envy the End,” “Tearing at the Fabric of Consciousness,” and “Nearing the End of the Curling Worm” leading the way.

While I don’t claim to be an expert on Lord Dying in any way, they omit enough talent to spark some interest over many similar bands within their genre of sludge-inspired metal (the ’70s-inspired guitar riffs found here have more in common with prog rock than your typical extreme metal act). Worth checking out for those with an open mind.

Rating: 3/5 Stars