Fireworks Magazine Online 51 - Interview with Eric Ragno

 

ERIC RAGNO

 


The Holidays in ‘The States’ (the timeframe encompassing Thanksgiving in late November through New Year’s Day) is always a hectic and unpredictable time. As a result, it may come as no surprise that production (whether it is written or otherwise) slows during this time of year. Although no excuse is permissible and am the first to admit being remiss with the tardy delivery, I would like to present all the readers of Fireworks Magazine and Rocktopia with the epic interview conducted with one of the most sought after and busy talents of the melodic rock genre, Eric Ragno (pronounced, Ran-Yo). Eric and I have crossed paths for years, but it wasn't until we were able to speak via phone that we could share stories, comments and praises that were well overdue. Without adieu, here is the unabridged version of our conversation which occurred in late November, 2011.
 
Eric Ragno- Hey Brent! How are you, man...thanks for calling.
 
Brent Rusche- I'm well, thanks. On behalf of all the readers of Fireworks magazine and www.rocktopia.net, thank you for taking the time to talk to me.
 
ER- Oh, definitely. I love Fireworks Magazine and Rocktopia.
 
BR- You stand to be the person I have developed more questions than I have with any other artist because there is so much I want to talk about. However, let's start by discussing the absolutely incredible by Fergie Frederiksen album, 'Happiness Is The Road.' That arguably stands to be his best effort ever as a solo artist (honorable mention going to the stunning Frederiksen-Denander collaboration, 'Baptism By Fire'). Where the latter is heavier and darker, the vibe of the former (of which you performed on) is definitely more keyboard-forward and to me, some of the best work I have heard from you. You utilized a variety of sounds from traditional piano, to 80's-like sawtooth waveform sounding pads. How did you become a member of that project and what do you feel about that record?
 
ER- Wow. Well first of all, thank you for that incredibly kind compliment and it validates for me what I was trying to do with this record. Dennis Ward [Bassist and Producer extraordinaire] contacted me some time ago and informed me of an upcoming solo album with Fergie of which I would be a part of. I've been a fan of his since back in the day of Toto's 'Isolation' record was released...a few days ago, I was actually telling him I remember listening to Casey Kasem's 'Top-40' radio show announcing the new singer in Toto with an wonderful range and playing (I think) 'Stranger In Town.' That recording really left an impression. Knowing that Dennis was going to be a part of this effort, I absolutely wanted to get involved. Dennis sent me some songs and since Toto not only has such a strong legacy but also features keyboards heavily, I wanted to try and 'raise the stakes' a little bit and bring [that sound] into the 21st century with what I, and other keyboard players do on these kind of productions and do it as a bit of a tribute to Fergie. In the midst of the recording, there was one point where the songs stopped coming and the correspondence with the record started becoming cryptic, and didn't know what that suggested. Then a few weeks later Fergie made the announcement regarding his health and the fact that he was suffering from cancer. Although he didn't offer specifics, that summer (2010), all worked really came to a complete halt. Not sure as to what to do...and this may seem hokey to some, but I actually started to pray for him. He has been a hero to so many of us for so long that I did the only thing I could think of at the time. As far as the record was concerned, we had already completed about 1/2 of the music for the record. By the end of the summer I received a call that the record would be completed and move on as strongly and as quickly as would could to finish the record. I thought, "Gosh," let me do all that I could for this guy, so any keyboard parts, any little guides and/or cues...sometimes you can use keyboards to show when a chorus is coming and the like. I thought, "Let me put as much structure in this as I can and make it as fun and as easy for him." I didn't even really know Fergie. I mean, we "Facebooked" a little, but we had no personal interaction whatsoever. So, that was a bit odd...but some of these productions are like that, at times. The video for 'Follow Your Heart' was released this week...by any chance; did you see that at all?
 
BR- Unfortunately, I have not yet had a chance to view the video.
 
ER- It's a really touching video for one of the softer tracks on the record. Jim Peterik [Survivor, Pride of Lions] had written this upbeat, bouncy song and the guys asked me to slow it down into a pretty, piano ballad. I thought, "Oh gosh, what am I going to do with this." Perhaps not surprisingly that song took the longest to complete. However, the song came out well and the vocals were amazing. In the video, Fergie has his son acting and is somewhat self-narrative. It is basically Fergie imparting advice to his son...and knowing what Fergie has been through...this is a guy that has a great appreciation of life and how short it is and following what is in your heart. When he sings that to you...you know he is serious! [laughs] For every song on that record, Fergie is singing like it is the album of his life. After all, he sang during his recuperation. As a matter of fact (as I eluded to earlier), we got together last week and he told me the whole story of him finding out when he got ill and going to the hospital and issues with his [health] insurance and not really knowing about the prospects of a liver transplant and some complications that prevent that right now. However, he is clear and cancer-free right now. There is a clot that could flare up at some point but right now, he's feeling better than he's ever felt. 'Happiness Is The Road' gave him something positive to focus on and I was a part of that...so I am very, very proud to have assisted him in some way. However, I've gotten a lot of positive feedback on the video and so, thank you for listening to the songs and appreciating them. For every out there, 'thank you.'
 
BR- Absolutely. Your efforts are clear focus of 'Happiness Is The Road' and I cannot speak highly enough of the record. Mr. melodicrock.com (Andrew McNeice) awarded it with a 94% rating which speaks volumes of which I offer you a heartfelt, 'congratulations.' For Fergie's sake, I'm sure the album was cathartic and spiritual. If you believe in those kinds of notions, as you yourself found yourself praying, that working on these types of projects helped (in some way) that healing momentum...
 
ER- Yeah, I really think everyone came together...Dennis and the entire band. This was a big project and with the uncertainty of Fergie's health, we weren't sure how it would turn out (if at all). We are just all so grateful that the album turned out so well and his health has since improved...it is simply the best possible outcome we could have asked for. He is doing well, the record is doing well...he is a really spirited guy. Although Jim Peterik wrote the song, he is in the video playing both the guitar and [my] keyboard parts. I sent a message to Fergie about that, and not only did he respond, but he happened to be in Los Angeles, CA staying in a hotel not more than 10 minutes away from where I live! We ended up spending the entire afternoon together and had a great laugh about the video. We talked about his time with Toto, his health, the making of the video. They did an incredible job on the small budget that they had for this video and his son was a big part of that. It's on the Frontiers website...it's a very special video for a very special song.
 
BR- I will certainly do that in the immediate future.          
 
ER- No joke, each track contains about 20 keyboard parts...in stereo. So there is a lot happening with my keys! [laughs]
 
BR- Changing gears for a moment...How did you get involved with the First Signal project, as that is one of my favorite albums from the few of years?
 
ER- Wow, thanks again. That one was also with Dennis Ward. I did these two albums back-to back, First Signal being the latter and jumping into the Fergie project only a few months after...Frontiers was going to be producing an album with Harry Hess [Harem Scarem] on vocals, were searching for a certain vibe and asked me to participate. It stands to be my debut working with Dennis [Ward] and decided to throw "the kitchen sink" at it and see what he likes and what he doesn't. When I receive a song (or set of tracks), I record every kind of instrument you can think of...I'll throw in some strings, organ, piano, some electronic [i.e. modern] stuff and see what the producer likes...and they usually end up using about 95% of the material I send them. That was, again, a privilege to work with someone like Harry Hess. A great guy, for sure. Not to mention that everyone knows and recognizes Harem Scarem and what they've done. A chance to do some of this...a tip of the hat, if you will, of the classic Harem Scarem material...I'm glad you like it, man.
 
BR- When it comes to these studio projects or 'manufactured' bands as it may be perceived like the aforementioned First Signal. Who is mostly responsible (and this goes for projects on other labels, not just Frontiers) for choosing the musicians that contribute their talents on these releases? (13:12)
 
ER- Well, I guess it ultimately has to be the Producer's responsibility and the record label needs to sign off on it. Like any company, you are creating a product, you want that product to succeed and you want to ensure its success by using the best architects you can to make the product as good as it can be. You start to build, over time, a relationship with the labels and the producers that do this sort of thing. I guess that is typical with any of these labels or any of these projects. It has to sound great. A producer can't bring in a musician who is going to suck [laughs], or necessarily take a chance on someone who is untested. There has to be a time-tested relationship by building a track record. I have been fortunate where I've been doing this for awhile starting back with Takara [vocals by Jeff Scott Soto]. Everyone [at this point] knows what I do and they trust me with the material. They can put it in my hands and know that I'm going to do a great job. You also have to be able to turn it around pretty quickly and it has to sound professional and within that genre. But to answer your question, I think that decision falls to the producer and the record label.
 
BR- Growing up, who inspired you to play music and specifically choose keyboards as your focus instrument?
 
ER- My parents were rock musicians when I was a kid. They had original bands in New Jersey. They toured a bit on the East Coast and my mother was a keyboard player. She had all of the latest synthesizers like the ones used by Nancy and Ann Wilson from Heart. I would experiment with all of these sounds and textures. Growing up, I was a huge Journey fan (Jonathan Cain) as well as Asia with Jeff Downs. I always just loved the mix of the sound. Kevin Moore on the early Dream Theater records really blew me away. But I love AOR, I love classic rock and am a big fan of those keyboard sounds that you hear. Stuff from The Cars where they don't just sit it the background but they help build the song. I guess those are my main inspirations but we also had a lot of music in the house growing up and it was always encouraged. I had a piano and a great synthesizer in my room when I was about 10 years old and just kept building up to the arsenal that I have today. [laughs]
 
BR- As that seems to be with all musicians. You never want to let go pieces of gear that you acquire.
 
ER- Yeah! Well, you start using it and learn the personality of the instrument, especially if you have it for a long time. You know how to extract the sounds and it becomes part of your repertoire. I have such a stack of gear here right now that if you asked what piece of gear that I use for a particular song, I'm really not sure. I'm sitting in front of five keyboards right now and it could have been any one of these...I've had them all for years. [laughs]
 
BR- Going back to the incredible 'Happiness Is The Road' album, one of the final tracks is 'The Future Ain't What It Used To Be' which is a classic from the Mark (now Marcie) Free demos. Being such a fantastic track and really enjoying your interpretation, is their any back-story as to how that tune was chosen for the record?
 
ER- Oh gosh, I really don't know to be honest with you as I was just presented a bunch of demos. Again, the songs are chosen by the label and the Producer. They simply give them to me and say, "OK, we need you to interpret this." Honestly, I didn't even know that was a Marcie Free song and I don't know what version of it I received. On First Signal, we had some Richard Marx demos that we interpreted ['Part Of Me' and 'When November Falls'] and I didn't know they were composed by Richard Marx. I get the songs and without bias I think, "How would I have done it back in 1987 and how would I do it today"...and we meet somewhere in the middle. I'm not sure how the songs are ultimately chosen, but they're great. As a matter of fact, 'The Future Ain't What It Used To Be' is one of my favorites.
 
BR- On 'When You Believe' from the First Signal recording, it seems pretty clear that Journey was in the forefront of everyone's mind when that song was written, and your intro keyboard riff reflects that. Was that intro written when the demo of the song was presented to you from the songwriters or was that something you wrote individually?
 
ER- I think there was some form of an intro and I basically embellished it a little bit by using some modern sounds. That's a fun song...has a fun message and vibe to it. Gosh, I don't know that I really put that much thought into it. Some of the demos that you receive sound really great and some of them leave me thinking, 'Wow, why did they pick this song?' A good song will remain good even if it is rough and you need to polish and refine it. The song, 'Follow Your Heart' on Fergie's album was not my favorite song when it came in. I think I did the most work on it because of the fact that it was not my favorite song and I think that may be why it turned out so great. I really worked hard to find the melody in it. However, it is really up to "the powers that be" [who choose the songs] and I do what I do with them.
 
BR- Another one of my favorites on First Signal is 'Goodbye To The Good Times'...
 
ER- Oh, that's a fun one!
 
BR- ...and in particular thought your funky, Stevie Wonder inspired clavinet playing was wonderful. It really adds a great dimension to the tune and would like to commend you on that effort...do you have anything insightful to dispel about the recording of that track?
 
ER- Oh man, that's another one Dennis [Ward, Producer] threw at me. For some reason, I didn't know what to do and he just said, "I want some funky Clav[inet] going on..." I said, "OK" [laughs] ...and I tried something funky. Gosh, that song probably has about 20 keyboards in it. To me, it had this old school, 1980's Don Henley feel to it and was trying to capture some of that bouncy, funky vibe that he was doing back then on some of his records. That sounds like the most retarded answer...can you scratch that one? [laughs]
 
BR- Which albums that you have played on stand to be your favorites and which (although might not necessarily rank as your favorite) stand to be the one(s) that you are most proud of your performance?
 
ER- Well, that's a really good question because it changes from month to month. It depends what I'm working on. There are records that I still listen to over and over again that I've worked on. For instance, I've been listening to the mixes for 'Happiness Is The Road' for the last few months and not because I have to to, but I just love the way it came out and love the way Fergie performs on it. Every time I listen to it, it brings back these happy memories of him healing and getting better...and that inspires me. I also listened to the First Signal album a lot when it was first released. I still listen to the work I did with Ted Poley on 'Smile' [Frontiers Records]. I love that record. Again, it brings back good memories. There are a lot of great melodies in there and a lot of keyboards that I am really proud of. It's really tough to tell, but I really do like this [style of] music. I listen to it, I breathe it...it's not as if I listen to funk all the time and record this type of music for the money. I genuinely enjoy it and these albums and I think you can hear it.
 
BR- Going back to First Signal, Harry Hess is a personal hero of mine and you had the opportunity to contribute on that excellent recording. Due to its favorable critical response, are there any plans to record a follow up and/or perform live?
 
ER- There are no plans for either that I am aware of right now. However, I don't know what the future holds. I know that Harry is working on new music and he did ask me about sending over some songs. And I think that it's independent of the record label but I'm not sure what his plans are exactly. We talked to him about doing something at the Melodic Rock Fest in 2010 [Melodic Rock Fest 2, Elgin Illinois] if he would be interested in performing some of the First Signal songs live, but the album had not yet been released when the festival was being organized and he didn't think that it would be something that would feasible at that point.
 
BR- Taking a time machine back to earlier days, how did your time in Amazing Grace help you develop as a musician?
 
ER- Wow, you've really done your homework, Brent...I've got to give it to you! [laughs] Amazing Grace was the first, I guess I would say, professional band that I was really a part of. I toured and I toured a lot. I wasn't with family, I wasn't with friends. I auditioned and two weeks later we were opening for Winger, Living Colour, Slaughter, Trixter and all those bands from that time. I learned A LOT about getting along with people on the road because if you are going to tour, you have to learn to, "let stuff slide!" [laughs] Whenever you can get sleep, get sleep. There are a lot of lessons to learn...don't drink, don't party. I learned a lot of things really fast being with that band. These guys didn't owe me anything...it was on my merits [that I got the gig]. I had to perform and I had to get along or they wouldn't need to keep me around. It was such a thrill getting to play with all of these great bands that you listen to on the radio and now you are opening for them and getting to meet them...watch from the side of the stage as they play live. It taught me a lot about professionalism, it taught me a lot about showmanship. I knew if I had some cool outfits and some stage presence that I would stand out. I'm not a guitar player, I'm not a singer, but I still have to make an impression...and not move too far. The keyboard rig is a heavy thing. I can't strap it around my neck and run around the stage with it. [laughs] It really instilled a lot into me as far as showmanship and getting along with other professionals...conducting interviews like this one, for instance. What to say and what not to say...I think I've already said some things I shouldn't have...maybe I might need to go back on the road with those guys and learn a little more! [laughs]
 
BR- What is your proudest professional moment?
 
ER- This interview. [laughs] No, no...I was supposed to make you laugh! [laughs]
 
BR- No, no...I have a huge grin on my face. I just wanted to keep things professional! However, I was going to say, "Thank you very much!"
 
ER- Yeah, you can print that! [Pause and sigh] Wow...geez, that's a really good question...for instance, this new record I'm proud of and all new releases [that I'm featured on] I always feel proud of. When there is a great show that gets documented on video [aka: DVD]...those are proud moments. For me, I take the most pride in the relationships. For instance, going out and spending time with Fergie the other day with him talking and confiding in me of his process through this record and his [personal] growth through it all. That makes me proud that someone who I grew up admiring thinks highly of my work...that he appreciates so much of my work that I've done that we are now friends and bonded on a level...we haven't even met on a "face-to-face" level until this week...but we already had so much shared history and so much in common working on this record. I toured with Graham Bonnet [Alcatrazz, Impellitteri] a few years ago throughout Europe. It was kind of a similar thing where the band brought Graham and I out to tour with them for an album he [Graham] had completed. However, they didn't treat either of us very well. However, Graham and I really bonded and we would awake at 7AM every morning and have juice and yogurt and he would tell me stories about Steve Vai [Frank Zappa, PiL, Vai, Whitesnake], being nervous in the studio or working with Yngwie Malmsteen and all of these legends. These friendships and this sort of camaraderie is what I'm going to hold on forever. I actually owe Graham a lunch at this point. [laughs] However, the friendships are what I am most proud of.
 
BR- Although I would like for you to take some time and define your keyboard style, it's my feeling that your playing is in more of a supporting role as opposed to your contributions being centered around soloing and improvisation. Please elaborate on how you interpret the music you are asked to record and your though process when developing your parts?
 
ER- Well...Um...I can solo and I can play and a lot of guys can solo and play. However, when you are making a record, you are in a different vibe, a different mindset. You are building something; especially with some of these projects for example...the star [main focus] is going to be the singer. Every song has a guitar solo but doesn't have a keyboard solo. I think I did a bit of soloing on 'The Saviour' [Happiness Is The Road'] which is the last song on the record.
 
BR- You did and yes, that is one tune that immediately took note of being that there was a solo performed by you...
 
ER- Yeah, every now and then I get to sneak one in there. [laughs] However, if you want to do this kind of work, you have to be able to look at the "big picture" and be a support mechanism for the music. When the engineer is mixing these records at 2:00AM trying to meet a deadline and he gets to a chorus or verse section...he wants to know that there is going to be a good [keyboard] pad or melody line to fill in a space...he doesn't want to be caught at the eleventh hour knowing there is this crazy solo in the middle coming up and there is nothing to support it. The producer needs the tools in order to build a good song. It is tempting to overplay and insert some crazy material, but I think I balance and take it right to the edge where I put in some busy passages and let the producer decide...if it fits within the scope of the song, he keeps it, and if it is too much, I trust him to use his "scalpel" in the studio to cut and slice all that is irrelevant. I have been doing this long enough so I have an idea as to know what people like. Guitar players don't want to be overshadowed. If the main guy in the band is a guitar player, you're not going to mess with that. [laughs] He wants the solo, he wants the parts...and you give it to him, of course. But if there is a space where there is something I can do, I take it. The latest Farcry record released earlier this year [Optimism, Kivel Records] is a good example of that. They handed me the finished record without keyboards...it had all of the guitar parts [solo and rhythm]. As a listener your ears will gravitate to the sections that contain all of the parts...you just don't want to hear the same riffs happening over-and-over again because you will go to the next song or you change the radio station. As a keyboard player, I try to add things that you might not even know that you are hearing them...but they are little "do-dads" that keep you listening to the rest of the song. If there is something I can add that other guys aren't doing then I'm going to do it the best that I can.
 
BR- Have you ever turned down any projects and if so, what were the circumstances behind your decision to do so?
 
ER- Wow...I do a lot, don't I? [laughs] If there is a time constraint, I might ask for additional time or recommend that they go to someone else. People usually come to me to play [on a record]. I don't usually have people come to me to play on a disco record or something that is out of scope with this [melodic rock] genre. If I have the time, I'm able to do it and it makes sense, then I'll do my best to take it on. I also try to work really early on as well...if you are working on a new record I always say, "Send me as much as you have as fast as you can..." so I can start on it right away. If I get busy later on, I've already finished three, four or five tracks and we can continue working in tandem. I don't want anyone to be waiting on me. Honestly, I haven't had to turn too much away. I try to keep a good work ethic to allow me the time to stay ahead of it.
 
BR- As of late, so many recordings have your name etched on it at some level. What has been your key to success being a featured player on so many successful recordings as of late like First Signal, Fergie Frederiksen, Ted Poley, Talon and list goes on and on?
 
ER- Well, I spend a lot of time listening to other keyboard players and what they do. Not necessarily my contemporaries, but musicians in the past, growing up and knowing what people want to hear. I try to give the listeners and the musicians what they expect. I know the sounds that belong in this style of music; I know the parts that would make it really cool. I know that, and I think my time in Amazing Grace taught me this too, but I know how to stay out of the guitar player's way and I know I'm supposed to compliment the singer. There are certain, basic things that you should go in [to a project] knowing. If you know it, handle it well, keep you ego in check and you smile, you can really help a situation and make it better. None of these records are Eric [Ragno] solo records..."Hey, watch me noodle and doodle about." You are trying to reach people in some way...I just got this track from Steve Brown from Trixter who sent me this rush job the other night. It's a really simple song and I thought, "I really want to make this special...what can I add?" I just tried to add some really pretty, ethereal, uplifting things so when you listen to this track, you feel good! It is somewhat of a sad song, but it adds a sort of uplifting part to it that I hope reaches people. I put the time in...I will sit there for an extra couple of hours saying, "What kind of sounds or chords can I use that will really make someone cry when they hear this." [laughs] Not just to earn a check or to say, "Hey, I played this amazing solo." I want people to feel something. I want people to listen to it and be moved. It is a shame, but I wish more musicians did that today. I know that there is less money in the genre and I know that people are busy with other things, but music used to move people...it used to build people's hopes and ideas. It was set to a beat and you could dance to it. Anyway, I try to go with that [mentality].
 
BR- Certainly coming from my perspective, that is a great philosophy to have. Although showing my age, the last (and only) time that I was enlightened to a rock band hailing from Russia was Gorky Park.
 
ER- Me too! [laughs]
 
BR- Never knowing a band called Pushking even existed, how were they able to recruit such an all-star lineup of rock/metal stalwarts to participate in this re-recording of their back catalog...and how did you become involved with the project?
 
ER- I had done some work with Fabrizio Grossi who is an excellent producer here in Los Angeles and he told me that this record was coming up. It is somewhat of a departure from what I do because that album is a lot of Wurlitzer, a lot of Hammond, a lot of piano and strings...even some horns but not a lot of synthesizer stuff. It is definitely more of a retro-70's feel than an 80's "synth-y" kind of thing. Fab[rizio] came to me and they were putting together some songs and matching up songs with artists and he has a pretty good Rolodex, a big phonebook...I've got a pretty big phonebook and some of the others involved just reached out to some of these folks. Fab's been doing work with Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top of which I think he played on two tracks. Paul Stanley [Kiss] did a track, Alice Cooper...I think we reached out to Kerry Kelly [Night Ranger, Damn Yankees] and he brought Alice in who sounds amazing. I reached out to Graham Bonnet [Alcatrazz, Impellitteri] and Eric Martin. We just called some friends and said, "This is a great record, it's fun..." and guys just responded to it. The last track on the record, Steve Lukather plays guitar on it and there is something like six different vocalists on it! So you have Eric Martin singing alongside Paul Stanley and Graham Bonnet singing alongside...gosh, I don't even remember, but the whole thing is a lot of fun. Although the reviews have been up and down, it was a fun record to do. I got to play piano behind Steve Vai (Frank Zappa, PiL, Whitesnake)...I mean, what a privilege. I've been a Vai fan forever and to get to do something like that is...that's a career highlight! [laughs]
 
BR- He's THE reason why I even picked up the guitar! What are some up and coming projects for Eric Ragno?
 
ER- Wellllll, [laughs] let's see...this week, I'm wrapping up this project for Jeremy Huntsiger {sp} who was, at one point, involved with Journey and would've been the next Journey singer after Jeff Scott Soto (who I love dearly). I'm fine tuning some things for the next Trixter record which is on the horizon. There is a great band named Dante Fox from England that I've completed the bulk of the record and I think they're now working on vocals. I'm starting to work with Joe Vana on the Mecca 3 record...I don't know if you've heard the new Mecca [II] record yet...I think it comes out in a week or two.
 
BR- I have not heard it, but have read the review on melodicrock.com of which it earned a 100% rating from Andrew McNeice and...
 
ER- Isn't that amazing...and the first Mecca record also received a 100% on melodicrock.com ...
 
BR- And the debut features Fergie on it!
 
ER- Yeah, and that's a funny thing because Joe Vana and Christian Wolf from Mecca had written a song that was used on the latest Fergie record called "The One" which happens to be one of my favorite songs on the album. Since I had the demo, I called Joe and said, "Man, you have to hear what we have done with the track, it's crazy...it's like a keyboard shmoregasborge!" {sp} He was listening to it and said, "You know, I'm finishing up my own record and I need you to come in and do some keys." I said, "Great!" Joe has quickly become my new BFF [Best Friend Forever]...we text each other all day! [laughs] It's kind of ridiculous...watching TV, texting each other and having a great time. We're working on the next Mecca record and hoping it comes out a lot faster than the previous ones because we have a lot of energy behind it. We're really excited to be working together.
 
BR- That is excellent news...I do have other questions, but there is so much material to transcribe! Therefore, I would now like to give you the opportunity to share any last thoughts to all the readers of Fireworks Magazine and rocktopia.net
 
ER- Well...wow. I have the podium, huh? [laughs]
 
BR- Yep, the proverbial soapbox.
 
ER- I usually close my interviews with some kind of a lecture! I love this music and I know you guys love this music too. I still wear rock T-shirts when I'm driving around and I'm still listening to that music. I know times change and fashions change but in my house none of it has changed. Obviously, we are in the 21st century but do everything you can to support the scene. If you listen to a record that you like, listen to it, blast it...tell a friend. Share it on Facebook or whatever social media trend is today. Please buy it and don't download it illegally because it really is killing us [the musicians]. I know some people disagree...they kill me on these message boards. Everyone thinks, "Oh, it's just one CD..." Enjoy it. This is your music...it's your music, it's mine, it's everyone's and let's really "rock it out." One of my son's favorite albums right now is Foreigner '4' and he is 11 years old. That record came out 30 years ago! Also, my 9 year old listen's to Bon Jovi's 'Greatest Hits' every day on his iPod and loops 'Who Says You Can't Go Home' in the shower to the point where it makes me insane! [laughs] This is our music, it still reaches people, kids respond to it and there is no reason why this lifestyle can't continue. It's part of our lives, so enjoy it. Also, check out my latest on http://www.keyboardplayer.net. I've got the latest news and links to all of my pages. I have a jukebox I call 'Ragno Radio' which has about 50 songs from different records that I've done that you can stream in their entirety. If you like it, tell a friend and if you don't, tell an enemy. [laughs] But, be sure and give it a listen. People can say that this music is out of fashion but when people hear it for the first time, many embrace it.
 
BR- For all the criticism that this music genre receives; it possesses an absolutely timeless quality.
 
ER- Yeah…and it's nothing to be ashamed of. I'm proud of it. We should all be proud of it.
 
BR- I am, for one. I still flaunt my Stryper T-shirts to this very day.
 
ER- [laughs] Aren't they great!? I saw them at the House of Blues in January [2011] and they were amazing
 
BR- Eric, it is clear we could talk for days. Being a fellow New Jersian and everything, it has been such a pleasure to finally hook up and talk after the craziness from Firefest which we didn't even talk about...[laughs] However, I wanted to focus on your latest recordings with Fergie Frederiksen, Pushking and your awesome performance on First Signal. I'm just really looking forward to more output from you not to mention the fact that you are one of the more recognizable names in the melodic rock genre. Thank you for taking the time and if there is ever any news you want to dispel, please look no further and contact myself.
 
ER- I will, brother. Thank you so much. I had such a great time meeting you in England at Firefest. Like you said, we could talk for hours...
 
BR- Yes. As a matter of fact, we go back quite a few years. The first time we met was, if you remember, was after the acoustic gig in King Of Prussia, Pennsylvania with Ted Poley and Eric Martin [Concert Under The Stars Series July, 2008]. We were all hanging out at the bar in the hotel...
 
ER- Yeah! He [Eric] was telling that story about Sebastian Bach...I don't know if you were there for that, but it was pretty disgusting! [laughs] That was such a great gig...I love Ted, too.
 
BR- As a matter of fact, I spoke to Ted about 2-3 months ago when I was in his neighborhood and made an unannounced appearance. He told me of the upcoming Danger Danger gigs, but also voiced his frustration with the business aspects of the music industry. If nothing else, I hope he keeps recording.
 
ER- It's tough...these guys used to make a living doing this...I know the economy is such that you cannot really make a living on it now...these downloads are just killing us. [sigh] You can get all these songs for free. Why buy it when you can steal it? It really makes a difference between having real drums and a drum machine on a record. It makes a difference between having a keyboard player like me or having the Engineer try and hold down some simple chords. It makes such a difference in the end product. That extra $5-$10 goes a long way.
 
BR- I agree. You are speaking with a staunch advocate of purchasing music that you like and being adamantly opposed to the illegal downloads, as you mentioned.
 
ER- Yeah...but I'm so glad you are liking these albums like First Signal and Fergie's because I read this criticism stating, "Oh no, it is another faceless project constructed in the studio." The state of the economy along with all the illegal music downloads makes some of these singers unable to afford to make a record on their own. Some of them can't find a way to do it on their own time and if they are signed to a label and they say, "Hey, we'll put something together...everyone gets paid and it'll sound professional..." and then the fans piss all over it because...you wouldn't have gotten the Harry Hess [First Signal] record if it wasn't for a label like Frontiers. And having this Fergie album...this project...putting this together may have helped save the man's life! I'm excited about it.
 
BR- You should be...from my perspective and simply said, "good music is good music."
 
ER- Yeah, there it is. I'm just glad that there are people giving these artists a chance to make records so we [fans] can still hear them perform.
 
BR- Although not huge numbers by any means, attendance at Firefest continues to grow annually, this year [2011] being exceptional.
 
ER- That's another avenue...without Firefest, you would never hear from Unruly Child, Kane Roberts or FM. Firefest put FM back on the map...FM reunited just to play Firefest...
 
BR- ...and they have released multiple recordings since their reunion in 2007 at Firefest IV.
 
ER- Yeah! For the haters out there who put this music down, it is bands like these coming back and keeping this music alive so fans have something to listen to. But, Firefest is certainly special. Maybe we'll get to do it again next year, right?
 
BR- Yes, that would be epic. I've taken up enough of your time so thank you for being so candid to all of my questions, as I have copious amounts to transcribe. The next time you are in New Jersey, please get in touch so that we might have the opportunity to speak in person.
 
ER- Oh, I'd love to. Have a great Thanksgiving Holiday and "Rock On."

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