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.
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.
While neither the album cover, nor the name of this current project between L.A. Guns guitarist Tracii Guns and Stryper frontman Michael Sweet really grabbed my attention at first, what the two have achieved here is no doubt sheer heavy metal greatness.
Opening track/single “Life” packed enough of a punch to convince me to check out the rest Evil and Divine, and it was soon clear that this was a well-thought out effort from start to finish, with Guns unleashing some of his heaviest Sabbath-inspired riffs, and Sweet belting out each and every track with full passion. Some more album highlights include the timely “World Gone Wrong,” the ballad “Been Said and Done,” and epic single “Better End.”
It’s apparent the folks at Frontiers no doubt know how to put together a winning combination of established musicians at this point and let them do their thing. However, it would’ve been slightly more interesting had Sunbomb been a true “supergroup” rounded out by a full band, instead of only having Guns and Sweet as the faces of the project. Regardless, this still works for everyone involved.
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.’
When I spoke to Quiet Riot/Hookers & Blow guitarist Alex Grossi via phone from his Las Vegas home last week, one of the first things I mentioned was how our paths had already crossed previously back in 2006, when I saw him perform with Quiet Riot on a bill that also included Skid Row in Ormand Beach. To my surprise, he actually remembered the exact show; “Oh yeah, during one of those Bike Week events! I vividly remember going to a Waffle House afterwards with a bunch of bikers and meeting with some fans (laughs). That was a good show!”
While technically it was actually Biketoberfest and not Bike Week (though I won’t fault him for it too much, it does get confusing!), I was still impressed none-the-less for remembering, and knew it was primed to be a good conversation from then on out. So of course I tested his memory further and asked him to recall how exactly Hookers & Blow, his cover band he formed along with Guns N’ Roses keyboardist Dizzy Reed (one of two GN’R members Grossi has worked with extensively, the other being former drummer Steven Adler in Adler’s Appetite) around the same time he joined Quiet Riot (in 2004), originally came together. He tells me; “We met at a place on Sunset Blvd. that’s no longer there called the Cat Club. It was sort of like the local musicians watering hole, where they would have an open jam there every night. I approached him to see if he wanted to maybe do some cover gigs. We exchanged numbers, and a couple of days later he said, ‘yeah, let’s book some shows, but call the band Hookers & Blow.’ And I said, ‘sounds good to me,’ and we gave it a shot, and it sort of snowballed from there. Now seventeen years later we’re finally putting out a record (laughs).”
The band has seen it’s share of members come and go, and Grossi did his best to clarify; “We’ve had a bazillion guys in and out of the band over the years, but the ‘core’ as of right now is myself on guitar and Dizzy on vocals and keys, but we also have Mike Duda from W.A.S.P. on bass, and Johnny Kelly from Type O Negative/Danzig on drums. And as far as who also appears on the album, (late Quiet Riot drummer) Frankie Banali did a couple of songs, and so did Scott Griffin from L.A. Guns. And when it comes to the touring aspect, we’ve had everyone from Chip Z’Nuff from Enuff Z’ Nuff and Todd Kerns from Slash’s band play with us live. It’s been a rotating lineup, but like I said, the core is really myself, Dizzy, Duda, and Kelly, and also Dizzy’s wife, Nadja, on background vocals.”
Drummer Kelly has also been pulling double duty in Quiet Riot along with Grossi, taking over for the previously-mentioned late drummer Banali. I asked if this arrangement would be permanent or not, and he said; “When Frankie got sick, Johnny kind of fell into the spot. At first he was just keeping the seat warm, but now we need him to keep it warm for us every night. He’s been with Hookers & Blow for eight years now though, so it made sense for him to fill that (now unfortunately empty) seat for Quiet Riot. But he’s doing a great job, and he’s family, so I’m really glad it’s worked out the way it has.”
I also asked Grossi for some insight on how H&B chooses the songs for it’s sets, as well as for their upcoming full length album. He explained; “Well, when we initially got together we were only playing live shows, so we basically were sending master lists of the songs we all knew back and forth through emails to each other. And over the years we’ve since added and subtracted songs from the set. But as far as the record goes, I’d say it’s about fifty percent of our live set, and then the other half are songs we’ve always wanted to cover. For example, we cover Body Count’s “The Winner Loses,” and we’ve never played that live before. Then on the other end of the spectrum, you’ve got a track like David Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust,” which is literally the first song we’ve ever played together and have played at every single show since.” But Grossi maintains that H&B doesn’t indulge too much when it comes to playing their respective bands’ music in their sets; “We’ll throw in the occasional Guns N’ Roses deep cut, but for the most part we like to keep it completely separate from our day jobs (laughs).”
I was also curious if a cover of Led Zepplin’s “Trampled Under Foot,” which featured the late Banali on drums, was a personal favorite of Frankie’s. He tells me; “That was a really special track. He was given 3-6 months to live in April of 2019, and he recorded that track in November of that same year after about a dozen rounds of chemo, and he still did it all in one take. He was definitely amazing though, just a monster. But we learned that, and “No Quarter” specifically for him, cause Zepplin was obviously Frankie’s favorite band. “Trampled…” we actually played live for years before we recorded it. In 2013 we got hired to do a residency at the Whiskey A Go-Go for a month, and Frankie wanted to come down and play, and asked if we could put some Zepplin in the set. We did, and it just turned out great.”
Before our conversation ended, Grossi clarified that Quiet Riot will still go on, and confirmed some upcoming show dates with both them and H&B; “We’re still going full steam ahead, that’s what Frankie wanted. His wife has taken over as manager and is doing a great job, and it’s nice to be able to still carry on his legacy, and it’s like having him here still in a way. But both bands actually have shows booked for the year already; Quiet Riot has a show March 6 at the Landis Theater in Vineland, NJ. And Hookers & Blow actually have four shows in Texas the following week, in Austin, Dallas, Houston, and Eagles Pass. They’re reduced capacity shows of course, but thing’s are slowly opening up, and wherever it makes sense for us, we’re going to do some shows here and there.”
One final thing I wanted to ask Grossi, was his thoughts on the late, great guitar legend Eddie Van Halen’s recent passing. Grossi tells me; “I was such a HUGE fan of Eddie’s, but I never aspired to play like him, because I knew I never could! There was Eddie, and then there was everybody else. It’s almost surreal that he’s not here with us anymore.”
Earlier this year, I spoke with L.A. Guns bassist Kelly Nickels, where we discussed the band’s then-upcoming new studio album, Renegades, and why this version of the band – lead by long-time drummer Steve Riley – deserves to still use the name as much as the Tracii Guns/Philip Lewis incarnation (Riley, who still owns fifty percent of the L.A. Guns name, maintains he never left the band, but rather Lewis had instead to join up with Guns, the two of them deciding to use the name shortly after).
So rather than cover the same topics Nickels and I previously had, I decided to focus my conversation with Riley on two specific subjects; said new album, and Riley’s storied career as a rock drummer that expands as far back as the 1970’s. With Renegades having just been released on November 13, one of the first things I wanted to ask Riley when I spoke to him from his California home was just how the album’s been received so far. He tells me; “We feel great! We were originally set to release the album and start touring in March (before everything started happening), but when we found out everything was going to be postponed until at least next year, we had to go into another mode, so we had to just release a single every couple of months or so. But now that the entire album’s out we feel so good…we just couldn’t wait for everyone to hear the entire thing!”
I was also curious if Riley had a favorite track on the new album. He explains; “You know, I’m SO in to the whole thing! We picked ten songs out of forty that we had, so I really love a lot of the tracks on it. Some of my favorites though are “Well Oiled Machine,” “Crawl,” “Lost Boys,” and I like the way “You Can’t Walk Away” turned out. Our singer Kurt brought in the song “Would,” and it’s a great acoustic track. I’m really digging the way the whole thing turned out. We really made a conscientious decision to make this album true to the L.A. Guns sound, and didn’t want to stray too far from what we really are.”
As I had mentioned earlier, Riley’s career began long before he joined L.A. Guns in 1987. In the ’70s he recorded with a number of acts that didn’t quite take off before joining a revived version of Steppenwolf by the end of the decade. He explains; “I was in a bunch of one-off bands in the mid-late ’70s where we would record an album, and then the band wouldn’t be able to continue for one reason or another. Then around ’78, a couple of the original guys from Steppenwolf called and asked me if I wanted to go out on tour with them, and I did that until ’79. I was a big fan, so it was a blast going out there and playing those old Steppenwolf songs!”
A little later down the line, Riley was with the band Keel long enough to record on their 1985 effort The Right to Rock (produced by Gene Simmons) before joining up with one of my personal favorite metal bands, W.A.S.P.. I wanted to know why his time with Keel was so brief, and how he went right from them to W.A.S.P. so quickly. He explains; “I had been doing session work in the early ’80s after doing a bunch of one-offs even after Steppenwolf. One of the guys I was doing sessions work with told me to go down and audition for this band Keel. I went down, got the gig, and recorded all my tracks for the album, even doing background vocals for it with Gene! But while I was in the studio, I got a call from (W.A.S.P. frontman) Blackie Lawless, and he asked me to come by and listen to what they were doing at the time.”
He continues; I was already familar with W.A.S.P. – they were all over the magazines and getting all this press – and I had even gone to see them live here in L.A. And Blackie asked me if I wanted to join up, and told me that they were about to leave for Europe in a few weeks. I was in such a weird (but good!) predicament with the situation with Keel. So I had to make a decision, and I think I made the right call because I ended up joining W.A.S.P. and doing the world tour with them for the first album, and then recording three more albums with them. It was a hard decision because the guys in Keel are great, it was a really good set up, and I really enjoyed working with Gene (Simmons). But even the guys in Keel (I’m still great friends with them today) knew I made the right call at the time.”
Like with L.A. Guns, W.A.S.P. has had a revolving door lineup over the years, with frontman Blackie Lawless being the only constant member. So I was curious if Riley still kept in touch with Blackie (who just happens to also be the first major interviewee I ever did back in 2010). He tells me; “I hadn’t seen him for a long time after I had left W.A.S.P. since we were both so busy with our own bands. Then maybe eight or nine years after I was out of W.A.S.P., L.A. Guns did a few shows with them, and it was really great seeing him (and all those guys) again.”
And finally, considering it’s not everyday I get the chance to speak with someone who was actually involved with a Ghoulies movie, I had to ask Riley what his thoughts were looking back on recording the track “Scream Until You Like It” with W.A.S.P. for the 1987 horror/comedy film, Ghoulies II. He says; “It’s funny, I’ve been on a lot of songs that have been in movies before, but that was just a campy flick (and kind of a campy song, too!), and just a lot of fun!”
When listeners got their first taste earlier this year of what the Steve Riley-led version of L.A. Guns were up to via the hook-laden track “Crawl,” they were given a fairly accurate idea of what was to come. But with follow-up single “Well Oiled Machine” failing to generate as much excitement, I was concerned they may have peaked early. But aside from a filler track or two, for the most part I was wrong.
Subsequent third single and title track “Renegades” is a blues-ly self portrait that paints a perfect picture of the band’s current status. Other tracks like “All That You Are,” “Lost Boys,” and the power ballad-ish “You Can’t Walk Away” are all worthy contenders from this version of the band.
You can close off your mind and scoff at the notion of there being two versions of L.A. Guns. Or, you could choose to look at things the way I do; we’re lucky enough to be living at a time where we not only have the option to be a fan of one or the other (or both/neither), but we have twice the music from one great band! Choose wisely.
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.”
Who would’ve ever thought that a sleazy sunset strip band like L.A. Guns had a Christmas EP in ’em?! But here they are with one, and the ironic thing about it is…it actually kind of works.
Oddly enough, the EP starts off with a recorded voicemail message from William Shatner, which then segues into their version of Billy Squier’s “Christmas is the Time to Say I Love You.” Covers of Slade’s “Merry Xmas Everybody” and The Damned’s “There Ain’t No Sanity Claus” are about as spot on as they get, but their take on the Ramones classic “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Wanna Fight Tonight)” is a tad on the weaker side. There’s even a 9-second rendition of “Dreidel” thrown in for good measure.
So before you throw down on the egg nog this season, throw this one on to get yourself in the holiday spirit. It should just do the trick.
Just two short years after 2017’s The Missing Peace album, L.A. Guns are already back with new music. And unlike some bands from their era, they’re still releasing material worthy of putting alongside any of their “classic” efforts (no doubt attributed to the recent burying of the hatchet between guitarist Tracii Guns and singer Phil Lewis).
The production value isn’t the greatest, but there’s plenty of hard-hitting, energetic numbers found here with tiles like “Stay Away” and “Needle to the Bone,” and both the title track and “Rage” have some fun videos to go along with them.
When I first got in to L.A. Guns, it was around the Vicious Circle era; a lot of the songs here actually remind me of some of the heavier tracks from that album that I really loved (such as “Face Down” or “No Crime”). The Devil YouKnow may not be quite on the same level as some earlier releases, but it’s chock full of what the band does best, and if you’re already familiar with that at all, check this one out.
After returning with a semi-reunion and releasing a “comeback” effort in the form of TheMissing Peace in 2017, LA Guns are back with a live outing. Although recorded in Milan, Italy, this collection oozes with all the sleaziness of the sunset strip.
After kicking things off with a couple from their first album (“No Mercy” and “Electric Gypsy”), the band rip through a 14-song set with ease. Other classics like “The Ballad of Jayne” and “Rip and Tear” are placed alongside newer tracks like “Speed,” as well as more obscure numbers like “Killing Machine.” Traci Guns’ guitar solos add to the highlights. Should be a definite hit for Guns fans.