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.”
The third and final show Rewind It Magazine made an appearance for this past Saturday, November 28, was none other than local cover act, The Beautiful Bastards. It was the only fitting ending to an already epic evening in Sanford that began with a Tiffany show at Buster’s Bistro in downtown, was bridged by an outdoor concert from The Original Wailers at Executive Cigar, before finally finishing things up at The Alley.
As some of you may recall, we have covered shows from The Beautiful Bastards in the past, as well as even interviewed drummer Timothy DiDuro (formerly of Skid Row/Slaughter/the Vince Neil band) earlier this year. On this particular night, the band – which is of course rounded out by the talents of vocalist/bassist Rick Navarro (formerly of the Pat Travers Band) and guitarist Dean Aicher (formerly of ex-Bad Company singer Brian Howe’s solo band), were once again firing on all cylinders.
Upon arrival, the boys were just closing out their first set with a cover of the Queens of Stone Ages’ “No One Knows” before taking a breather. We were able to briefly catch up with a couple of the guys (Tim and Rick) from the band during the intermission, and they both seemed as pumped up as ever to be out playing live again during these strange times. But the absolute icing on the cake came just minutes after when, my wife/photographer, Brooke, pointed out that none other than Tiffany herself was in the bar as well – and seated right behind us! It was an absolute thrill to finally meet her, and for the night to come full circle in such a way.
After the excitement, the band returned to the stage with a mammoth version of Led Zepplin’s “Whole Lotta Love,” before launching into a fury of classic rock numbers that also included Pink Floyd’s “Have a Cigar,” The Who’s Behind Blue Eyes,” Alice in Chains’ “Nutshell,” The Beatles’ “Helter Skeltor,” “I Saw Her Standing There,” and “I Wanna Hold Your Hand,” The Monkees’ “I’m a Believer,” The Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go,” and Violent Femmes’ “Blister in the Sun,” before finally ending things with a raucous version of Wild Cherry’s “Play That Funky Music.”
After eight months since last covering a live event (which was Overkill at the House of Blues in Orlando last March), Saturday’s trio of shows was a much-needed jolt back into the music scene that was without a doubt one for the books. And if you haven’t already caught the ‘Bastards live for yourselves, be sure to check the band’s FB/social media sites for show dates near you!
It’s not unheard of for musicians to occasionally branch out into other, often similar or related fields. Skid Row bassist Rachel Bolan is already known to broaden his horizons with extracurricular activities; since co-founding the band in New Jersey in 1986, Bolan has kept himself busy with hobbies both in and out of music, being involved in everything from side projects, to competing in high performance car races. Bolan’s most recent venture in the soap business (appropriately titled Dirty Rocker Soap) might not be the most obvious of choices to some, but makes sense when considering the amount of miles musicians like Bolan average a year in travel time. I was recently able to catch up with Bolan regarding said foray into the world of hygienics, as well as take a trip down memory lane and revisit some of the many highlights of his tenure with Skid Row.
Before we got in to any serious talk regarding music or soap, and knowing Bolan originally hails from the same state as yours truly (New Jersey), I was curious what ties he still had to the Garden State, if any. He informs me; “I moved out of New Jersey in 2000, then lived to Atlanta for maybe 14 years before coming to Nashville a little over 5 years ago. All my friends were moving out here, and there’s really no music scene in Atlanta so to speak, so I came here.” I was also wondering if his parent’s house in Tom’s River, NJ, where the band spent their earliest days rehearsing, was still standing. He tells me; “That house is still there! The road’s a lot wider, so the front yard’s a lot more narrow and closer to the street than it was when I was a kid, but it’s still there.” He also notes that he does still have plenty of friends and family residing in the NJ/PA areas to this day as well.
Regarding just how he got things going with Dirty Rocker, he says; “It was about a year and a half ago now that I basically came up with the concept. Every band seems to be putting out their own hot sauce or coffee these days, so it was an idea that kind of culminated with another necessity. With traveling so much, you come across a lot of hotels that just have mass-produced soap that just doesn’t feel good, and already being prone to skin irritations, I thought, ‘let me try making my own soap.’ No one in rock music has ever put out a soap before to my knowledge, so I just took it from there. I have a friend who actually makes soap, and she gave me the lessons on what to do and what not to do. With her help, I was able to start selling soap, and it’s the craziest thing because it just kind of took off! (laughs). The response has been overwhelming though, and it still is.”
As far as how his new venture has been effected so far by the pandemic, Bolan informs me; “The timing has been completely coincidental – no one could have seen everything coming that has so far this year. But now I have time to dedicate to it, along with writing and all that stuff. But it just happened very organically, and now here we are talking about it.” Bolan also shares his personal preferences with me; “I’m a big fan of the Lemongrass Green, Mother Earth, and Lavendorwood. I like all the other ones too, but those are my top three, and they seem to be the ones I go through quickest online.” I also wanted to know if the other guys in Skid Row had tried Dirty Rocker yet, to which he tells me; “It’s funny that you mention that, because just yesterday I was thinking, ‘man, I got to send some out to these guys!’ (laughs) I haven’t seen them in awhile, but yeah, I’ll send them some soon for sure.”
The current Skid Row lineup with former DragonForce vocalist ZP Theart has been intact for just over four years now. I asked Bolan what it’s been like since having Theart enter the fold, and he states; “ZP’s band I Am I came out on the road with Skid Row at one point, and our friendship just grew stronger from that. Then when it was time for us to find a new singer, we called him. He came in, and it was just effortless for him. He had been listening to us since he was a kid; when we put out the first record, he was just 12 or 13! But he came in and just knocked it out of the park, and here we are nearly five years later. He’s a great frontman, great singer, and overall just a really great dude.”
Having been continually (and meticulously) working on a biography of Skid Row for the past two-plus years, I was already well versed on the band’s history prior to our interview (and judging by his reactions, Bolan was even impressed by my knowledge a time or two throughout). Still, there were some fuzzy details about the band’s formation, including the original lineup (which often incorrectly lists a former school mate of Bolan’s as the original drummer) that I wanted to clarify. I started by revisiting how Bolan and co-founder/guitarist Dave “The Snake” Sabo had met while the latter was working at the Garden State Music Center in the mid-80s. He explains; “Scotti (Hill, Skid Row guitarist) and I had a band before Skid Row that we were thinking of disbanding. At the same time I had just met Snake – and there was a point where all three of us worked at that store (Garden State Music Center) at the same time, which was just freaking chaos all the time! (laughs). I realized I had actually met Snake years before when he mentioned he lived in Sayerville and was previously in a band called Steel Fortune. We got to talking, and he told me he needed a bass player for this new band he had. He already had Matt (Fallon, also ex-Steel Fortune, as well as Anthrax) on vocals, Jim (Yuhas) on guitar, and Charlie (Mills) on drums – those were all Snake’s ‘crew.’ And then once Scotti came in and we shifted some people around (eventually adding drummer Rob Affuso and vocalist Sebastian Bach to complete the band’s ‘classic’ lineup), it started taking on a new life and ended up working out really well, obviously” (laughs). As soon as Snake and I started writing songs together, it just turned in to dropping everything, and focusing on Skid Row.”
I also inquired if he remembered just what that first song the band ever composed together was. He points out; “It was a song called ‘Telephone.” I remember the riff and chorus, and I know there’s a demo of it on cassette around in a box somewhere that I’ve got to find!” Skid Row have obviously produced many great songs since those early days, and hits like “I Remember You” and “Youth Gone Wild” will always remain staples in their set lists. But I wanted to know if there were any possible obscure tracks Bolan would ever consider resurrecting, such as the forgotten “Walk Like A Stranger” off of their original 1986 demo. His reaction; “I haven’t even heard or thought about that song in years! (laughs) Our buddy’s in Trixter actually did a really good cover of it a few years back. We have brought back “Forever” from that first demo a couple of times recently though, and it seems to have gone over well.”
And as far as how the band is holding up with all of the uncertainties of today’s world, Bolan proclaims; “Everyone’s keeping it together. We’re still making music, or at least sending each other ideas. It’s a new way of doing things that we’re totally not used to, but I think everyone’s kind of going through that no matter what line of work they’re in. But whenever everything ‘rights’ itself and we all go back to ‘normal life,’ I think everyone’s going to be a lot stronger for it.” While on the subject, I saw this as a good chance to ask if there might be some new music materializing soon. He replied; “I’m hoping so. If we don’t get the songs out all at once, maybe we’ll release just a song or two or something. But yeah, we’re hoping to have something out (if not the whole thing) in the not-too-distant future…and I can confidently say it shouldn’t be too much longer.”
For nearly three decades, Timothy DiDuro has been bashing the skins for bands all over the central, FL area and beyond. After a brief gig drumming for Skid Row in early 2004, he went on to play with Slaughter for seven years as their touring drummer, before also blasting out Motley Crue hits as a member of Vince Neil’s solo band (much like another ex-Skid Row drummer Rewind It Magazine has interviewed in the past had done, DiDuro’s predecessor in Skid Row, Phil Varone).
DiDuro keeps things a little more locally these days, lending his talents to the metal act Rising Up Angry, as well as cover supergroup The Beautiful Bastards, an act that RewindIt Magazine was also on hand to see perform live in DeLand last year (which is also what this article’s photo is from). Timothy has almost single-handely taken on another new project in the form of JettRacer, a creative outlet that finds him also singing and playing guitar in addition to playing the drums, with Seether bassist Corey Lowery being the only other musician involved in the mix.
I was recently able to speak to Timothy, and one of the first things I wanted to know was about his brand new project with Lowery, which he tells me, “A few years back, I started writing and stockpiling my own material after years of being a ‘hired gun’ drummer. I was working with a guy named Zach Vick at the time, who had a studio and basically able to go there and do some pre-production, as well as write a bunch of material myself. I sat on a lot of the stuff for awhile, but then the whole thing with Corey came about when I decided to reach out to him one day and tell him I had this material that I’d like to work with him on as possibly a producer. He was instantly up for it, so I sent him a couple of tracks, and he happened to pick the track “It’s Not the End” (which you can also check out right now on YouTube) to re-work with me, and it turned out great. I thought the timing to release this single would be perfect, not only because of the state of the world and how we’re living right now, but I thought it might actually be something somewhat inspiring. Brandon Goldthwaite also did such an amazing job producing the video.”
He goes on to elaborate regarding stepping out from behind the drum set to the microphone/songwriter’s seat and says, “It’s not what people normally expect from me musically, but I just kinda wanted to do something on my own, so I just kept pushing myself to do it. There are guys out there who have went from drummers to writers, and I always found that inspiring.” I also asked what was in store for the future of JettRacer, and Timothy tells me, “I haven’t even really thought about a live, physical band yet, but like I said, I have a stockpile of material, and I’m going to absolutely continue writing.”
DiDuro also informs me that once things blow over in these current quarantined conditions that he will definitely be picking back up with his other projects, such as The Beautiful Bastards, saying, “I just enjoy playing with those guys so much, we always have a great time together.” He also says there should be more stuff to look out for in the near future from Rising Up Angry, another local outfit he had previously gotten involved with shortly before the days of social distancing.
And I’m not sure what kind of Skid Row fan I would be if I didn’t ask at least one question regarding how DiDuro did time in one of the biggest bands to ever emerge out of my home state of New Jersey; “I basically got a phone call from a drummer friend of mine, Will Hunt from Evanescence, and he’s the one who pretty much put me in that driver’s seat and basically told the band about me…so kudos to Will (Laughs)! It was super brief to be honest with you, though. I didn’t really have a lot of time to do my homework, and they had a full world tour booked, so I think a lot of that really came down on me. I ended up doing just a couple shows and videos with them, and ironically enough when I ended up being with Slaughter, we ended up doing a lot of co-headlining shows together! So for years and years I was actually able to still hang out and see them play, and they’re still friends of mine to this day.”
You can check out the video for DiDuro’s new track here;
If ever there was a band worthy of comparison to Spinal Tap, it has got to be today’s incarnation of Quiet Riot. As if the album cover didn’t already give it away, HollywoodCowboys is a bit on the amateurish side.
On their second (and now final) studio album recorded with former American Idol singer James Durbin on vocals (ex-vocalist Jizzy Pearl has now stepped back in to fill the spot once again), unfortunately what the band has compiled here doesn’t sound much better than essentially a demo recording. I was honestly surprised the band didn’t rush back in to re-record Durbin’s vocals with Pearl, much like they had done when Durbin replaced previous singer Sean Nicols on 2017’s Road Rage album.
All things considered, some of the songs found here actually aren’t that bad. Tracks like “Insanity” actually contains some fairly impressive guitar work, and “Hellbender” probably stands above everything else here. But the mix is still so off throughout the entire album, with the drums simply overpowering everything else. Perfect example; look up lead off single “Don’t Call it Love” on YouTube and see how many people agree with that exact same sentiment in the comment section.
I’m not the kind of person who enjoys being overly critical for the sake of being harsh, but I’m also not going to sugar coat things. I actually really dug Quiet Riot back in the day (one of the best concerts I’ve actually ever been to was a bill they were on with Skid Row back in 2006, a year before original lead singer Kevin Dubrow’s untimely passing), and I honestly sympathize with drummer Frankie Banali’s recent cancer diagnosis (and wish him the best with it). But there’s a reason why some bands from their era don’t maintain the same status as an act like Motley Crue. There’s also usually a fairly good (and dysfunctional) reason for so many rotating lineups in a band, and Durbin most likely wisely stepped down from his now former group.
Last year Rewind It Magazine was there to bring you coverage of former Skid Row front man Sebastian Bach’s show at The Plaza Live. This past Wednesday night, October 30, at the Hard Rock Live in Orlando, Bach seemed to be full of a sense of rejuvenation as he plowed through a set that consisted entirely of his former band’s music, and the crowd ate up every minute. It was no small feat for him to pull off such an epic show, either, considering he was dealing with personal issues, having just learned of his family’s home in California being under evacuation due to wildfires shortly before going on stage.
Newcomers Kobra and the Lotus kicked off the night with the appropriate amount of enthusiasm expected from a lesser-experienced act. Front woman Kobra Paige was easily the center of attention as she slinked around on stage in a blue jump suit, belting out numbers like “Burn!” and “Let me Love You.” It also didn’t hurt she had immense talent backing her, including the dual guitar work of Jasio Kulakowski and Ronny Gutierrez.
Vixen were up next, and have been on my radar of bands to see for awhile now. Although something did feel like it was missing without former vocalist Janet Gardner and of course founding guitarist Jan Kuehnemund (R.I.P.), former Femme Fatale singer Lorraine Lewis and Jaded guitarist Britt Lightning did more than admirable jobs in their shoes (especially Lightning, whose looks first caught my eye when I saw her play with Jaded back in 2005). The band opened their set with a number from Lewis’ previously mentioned former band, “Waiting on the Big One.” More songs from throughout the band’s career followed, including “Cryin’,” “Runnin’ with the Devil/I Want You to Rock Me” and “You Ought to Know,” before of course ending it with their most recognizable hit, “Edge of a Broken Heart.”
Finally Bach hit the stage, opening his set curiously with a more obscure Skid Row number, “Forever,” before going into the first Skid Row album in it’s entirety as promised. And as soon as the familiar riffs of “Big Guns” kicked into gear, it was clear it was on! The rest of the album’s first side – “Sweet Little Sister,” “Can’t Stand the Heartache,” “Piece of Me,” “18 & Life,” and “Rattlesnake Shake” – relentlessly followed.
Before going to “Side 2,” a turntable was actually wheeled out on stage, and the band even briefly segued into the theme song of “WKRP in Cincinnati” before Bach literally dropped the record’s needle to signify the start of “Youth Gone Wild.” Pandemonium quickly ensued, as that lead to two more of the album’s heavier tracks in the form of “Here I Am” and “Makin’ a Mess.” Things of course slowed down a bit for “I Remember You” before closing the album portion of the set out with “Midnight.”
Of course the band wasn’t quite finished yet, and came back for an encore of tracks from the Slave to the Grind album, including “Slave to the Grind,” “The Threat,” “In a Darkened Room,” “Monkey Business,” and even ending with the once-controversial “Get the Fuck Out.”
It was definitely a treat to hear so many songs that normally would not have been included in his set list, and about the only other thing Bach could’ve possibly done to make the night even more complete would have been invite his former Madam X bandmate and Vixen drummer Roxy Petrucci on the stage to jam “We Reserve the Right to Rock.” Still, I’ve seen Bach live multiple times on his own, and I’ve seen his former band Skid Row play without him as well. I can honestly say that watching Bach perform a full set of Skid Row music, with photos and videos of his former band being displayed the whole time on screens on all sides of the stage, was by far the best night of Skid Row music from start to finish I’ve ever witnessed.
It’s not often we feature a cover artist or band here at Rewind It Magazine. But when the group happens to consist of rock royalty such as former Brian Howe (Bad Company) guitarist Dean Aicher, former Skid Row/Slaughter drummer Timothy DiDuro, and former Pat Travers Band bassist Rick Navarro (who has also shared the stage with the likes of Steven Tyler and the late Eddie Money), we’ll make an exception for the likes of The Beautiful Bastards.
Immediately upon arriving at O.B’s in DeLand this past Saturday, September 7, one could here the unmistakable chords from a familiar Beatles song. After taking a seat at the bar, my assistant/photographer/wife and I were instantly greeted with a warm welcome from the friendly bar keep, and after just one quick look around, it was apparent we were in the right kind of establishment.
Some members of the crowd even danced as the band ripped through tracks like Free’s “All Right Now,” Pink Floyd’s “Have a Cigar,” Led Zepplin’s “Dancing Days,” The Who’s “Squeeze Box” and “Behind Blue Eyes,” The Beatles’ “Come Together,” and Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion” before taking a break. Unfortunately, parenting duties caused us to call it a night earlier than expected for us, and we were unable to hang around for the band’s next set afterwards. But still, it was the perfect excuse for a night out filled with classic rock music (even if it was only for a short time).
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.
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!).