Retrospective: 20 Years Since Mark Wahlberg Became a ‘Rock Star’

By: Jesse Striewski

Few fictional ‘rock’ flicks have ever perfectly captured the essence of sex, drugs, and rock and roll as well as 2001’s Rock Star. Tagged with the line “The story of the wanna be, who got to be,” its source inspiration was drawn from the real life fairy tale of Tim “Ripper” Owens, who landed the dream job as frontman for heavy metal legends Judas Priest after being discovered singing the band’s material in a cover band.

Directed by Stephen Herek, the film uses this idea to tell the story of Chris “Izzy” Cole (Mark Wahlberg), who goes from singer for a Steel Dragon cover act, to the real deal almost overnight. He instantly feels all of the highs and lows going from obscurity to the big leagues, with many of his personal relationships ultimately straining as a result, including his romance with girlfriend/manager Emily Poule (Jennifer Aniston).

Having previous experience as lead singer for Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch, Wahlberg pulls off playing Cole like a pro. He’s surrounded by more ‘real life’ musicians throughout the film, with guitarist Zakk Wylde (Ozzy Osbourne/Black Label Society), bassist Jeff Pilson (Dokken), and drummer Jason Bonham (Led Zeppelin) making up the rest of the lineup of the fictional Steel Dragon.

The author (left) with former Judas Priest singer Tim “Ripper” Owens in 2019. Owens inspired the plot of Rock Star.

Outside of Steel Dragon, there’s use of many other notable musicians in the film; Slaughter drummer Blas Elias, Alter Bridge frontman Myles Kennedy, and even one time L.A. Guns/future Steel Panther lead singer Ralph Saenz (a.k.a. Michael Star – see photo below) all pop up at one point or another. There’s even an homage of sorts to the 1984 classic This is Spinal Tap, when the band is seen photographed on the same rooftop featured in said film.

Aside from featuring many original songs by the likes of KISS, Motley Crue, and Def Leppard (among many others) throughout, it also contains a number of covers re-imagined as Steel Dragon originals, such as the Steelheart track “We All Die Young.” And while the other members of the fictional outfit perform on these songs, oddly, Wahlberg does not sing on them. Instead the vocal duties are handled by Steelheart vocalist Miljenko Matijevic, and one-time Journey singer Jeff Scott Soto.

Making under $20 million on a $50-plus million dollar budget, Rock Star fell short of making the impression filmmakers had hoped it would; this could likely be attributed to the fact it was released just days before the September 11 terrorist attacks. Still, the film has since maintained a life of its own among fans, and remains a go-to, rags-to-riches rock journey to this day.

Steel Panther performing live in 2013; vocalist Michael Star makes a brief appearance in the film (photo courtesy of the author’s personal collection).

Album Review: The End Machine – Phase2 (Frontiers Music s.r.l.)

By: Jesse Striewski

Hard rock/heavy metal suergroup The End Machine, which features guitarist George Lynch (Dokken/Lynch Mob), bassist Jeff Pilson (Dokken), vocalist Robert Mason (Warrant/Lynch Mob), and newcomer Steve Brown on drums (in place of his recently retired father, Mick, also from Dokken) are back with the follow up to their 2018 debut. And this time the group has had a chance to perfect their sound just right.

Instrumental piece “The Rising” starts things off with a hauntingly familiar tone before breaking into the album’s first single (and without a doubt one of it’s strongest tracks), “Blood & Money.” From then on, there’s hints of multiple genres spread out along the way on the record’s twelve tracks; “Devil’s Playground” and “Born of Fire” contain some blues-ly riffs from Lynch, while “Prison or Paradise” and the album’s latest single, “Crack the Sky,” contain some borderline thrash elements.

But without a doubt the biggest highlights come in the form of the anthems “Shine Your Light,” and especially, “Dark Divide.” With their in-your-face, sing-along choruses, I found myself turning up the volume even louder, especially with the latter track, which no doubt features Mason screaming his heart out on possibly one of the strongest performances of his entire career.

Phase2 is hands down the album the rock community needed at this moment in time. Don’t pass this one up, it’s worth giving the time of day (and then some).

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Book Review: Nothin’ But a Good Time: The Uncensored History of the ’80s Hard Rock Explosion By Tom Beaujour and Richard Bienstock (St. Martins Press)

By: Jesse Striewski

With renewed interest in the decade of decadence continually growing each year, there’s no shortage of various media information on ’80s hard rock (a.k.a. ‘hair’ or ‘glam’ rock) and heavy metal out there these days. But this new book by rock journalists Tom Beaujour and Richard Bienstock (with a brief forward by Slipknot frontman Corey Taylor) is truly the new bible on ’80s hard rock and heavy metal.

Largely tracing it’s roots back to the influence Van Halen had on the movement in the mid to late ’70s, here the two authors put together a collection of interviews that includes numerous musicians, producers, promoters, magazine editors, and the like, to help tell the tale of arguably one of rock’s greatest eras. Various key members of such staple acts as Motley Crue, Ratt, Guns N’ Roses, Quiet Riot, Dokken, L.A. Guns, W.A.S.P., Poison, Cinderella, and Warrant, – as well as numerous Rewind It Magazine interviewees from over the years – including Jay Jay French of Twisted Sister, Jack Russell of Great White, Brian Forsthye of Kix, and Rachel Bolan of Skid Row (among many others), are just some who help recall the foundation of the genre that changed it all in great detail.

The perspective is unique and fresh, despite some of the stories already found in other published works (many of those involved have previously published their own individual biographies). There’s even a brief but brilliant collection of many never-before-seen photos included as well. In short, Nothin’ But a Good Time is a rollercoaster ride of literature from start to finish, and one of the best of it’s kind currently available on the subject. It simply ‘don’t get better than this.’

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

Album Review: Dokken – Return to the East Live (2016) (Frontiers Music s.r.l.)

Dokken

By: Jesse Striewski

In late 2016, the “classic” Dokken lineup of Don Dokken, George Lynch, Jeff Pilson, and Mick Brown got back together to play some shows in (mostly) Japan. The end result of their one-time reunion is yet another live Dokken album recorded in Japan (their 3rd to be exact).

All the standards are here (“Breakin’ the Chains,” “Alone Again,” “Dream Warriors,” “In My Dreams,” etc…), as well as two acoustic songs (“Heaven Sent” and “Will the Sun Rise”).  There’s also a brand new studio track in the form of “It’s Another Day;” perhaps not the best single the band has ever recorded, but admirable enough (there’s even a sleek new video to go along with it). It’s unfortunate the reunion was as short-lived as it was, but if nothing else, at least they were able to release this (no small feat for a band like them).

Rating: 3/5 Stars