Fireworks Magazine Online 51 - Retrospective: Interview with Jeff Paris

Retrospective - Jeff Paris


Initially for this issue’s Retrospective, the plan was to go back and look at one of melodic rock’s best song writers, Jeff Paris. After his Firefest performance and talk that Rock Candy were going to re-release his first two albums, James Gaden decided to concentrate on his favourite Jeff Paris record, ‘Lucky This Time’, a stunning collection of tracks with some high profile co-writers. However, James and Jeff ended up covering all of his albums, the legendary Moon Over Paris sessions, his appearence at Firefest and Jeff’s amazing new project, United Rockers 4U. It’s all good, so away we go!

You started your career as an solo recording artist with ‘Race To Paradise’ in 1986...

Yeah - Rock Candy have been trying to put it out now for nearly two years, so I don’t know whether that will ever come to fruition. I talked to Derek Schulman who was my A&R guy at Polygram to talk with Derek Oliver, show them he had my support. They need to come out because people, especially from the UK and Sweden, have been campaigning for them to be re-released. Even Derek was shocked to hear they aren’t on iTunes. It’s crazy, to do that doesn’t cost anybody any money!

‘Wired Up’ came next, another one Rock Candy are trying to get out, which is well known as being a bit of a classic. You explained in your ‘Just For The Record’ interview with RockUnited.com that you had an abusive manager who you got rid of halfway through making that album, and you felt that it was more his input than the usual lack of record company support that stopped ‘Wired Up’ being as successful as it should. Did it make it doubly frustrating when Vixen took three of those songs and scored a hit with ‘Crying’, or were you happy for the songs success?

No, I was happy about Vixen. Like I said in that article, the manager at that time was brilliant, and was also a really wonderful guy, but he had a dark side. You learn this in life, sometimes people who have detracting features can be excused if things are still working, if the percentage of good is in your favour, it’s okay. Back then, there were elements of chaos and craziness surrounding major label deals. I have a feeling the business is so small now in terms of big corporate projects, nobody can afford to be as toxic as they were in the eighties. I was really, really happy about the Vixen thing - in their formative years searching for a deal, they had the same manager. He asked me to write them something they could shop to labels, so I wrote ‘Crying’ with my friend Gregg Tripp. In a way, I was responsible for helping them get signed, because their demo had three nice sounding rock songs but no hit single. That was my job, so even though I didn’t produce their record, I felt I was responsible for connecting the dots for them. All the covers people have done of my stuff, I’ve always been happy with, it makes me feel like a member of the band.

After that, you went quiet as a performer, concentrating on being a song writer, contributing for other acts like Mr Big, Skin, Alias... did that satisfy you creatively, or did you still have that burning desire to be a performing artist?

Well, all that stuff which ended up on ‘Lucky This Time’ was stuff written after Polygram ended their relationship with me. I took a six month break after the craziness, your readers can take in all that back-story in the RockUnited.com article to see why I needed a break. Basically, I worked through a really toxic situation, still ended up with a really good record, but it took the piss outta me. I had to have a break. Then it was time to look at the economics of what I was going to live on. I had no label, so I didn’t think shopping for a record deal would be as lucrative and as quick to make me some money as working as a song writer. I figured I would get signed and paid more quickly as a song writer than an artist. I went into ‘writing factory’ mode, but everything I wrote was still in that eighties vibe. I’d write maybe four songs for every act I worked with, and that makes up what would become my ‘Lucky This Time’ album. Therefore, in a way, I never stopped being an artist, writing for those other bands, I was writing for myself as well. Some people want to be artists because they have that exhibitionistic streak, they want to rock an audience. Their secondary thought is to be creatively satisfied, which doesn’t require an audience. With me, for some reason, I always was more geared towards creating the stuff. I love performing, but that was more of a chore than the writing, which is the opposite of a lot of rockers. Some guys spend time rehearsing, getting a band sounding good, rocking the people, but put ‘em in a room to write and they blank! I love performing, but the creating, making everything and laying down tracks, that’s me. To go out on tour, book shows, that feels like work, y’know? (laughs)

Six years passed between ‘Wired Up’ and ‘Lucky This Time’, a collection of superb songs with some very high-profile co-writers on there. How did this record come about if you were immersed in song writing mode?

You don’t know this story? This is one of the funniest damn things in the world! After leaving Polygram to be a writer, I got married and had a big lawsuit, the manager sued me - for $3 million can you believe! (laughs) All that happened within a few weeks, when you lose a record deal a lot of people run away from you. The ones who stay, those are your peeps. A lot of heavy duty emotional shit went down and I got into a program of writing every day, five days a week, six hours a day. A publishing deal might ask you for ten whole finished songs a year. If you co-write with a guy, you’re writing half so you actually have to co-write twenty songs to make your quota, if you write with two people it fractions down again, right? My quota for my publishing deal then was to write twenty finished songs. Back in those days, I could do fifty songs a year. Twenty songs wasn’t a problem, I was in the zone, I was inspired. I had an idea that the more songs I wrote, the better chance I had of artists taking one. If you offer a band ten songs, they’d pick two or three. If I gave them three, they’d take one, right? So I was writing all this stuff and really working it.
During that period, I got visits from a couple of journalists who were constantly harassing me to go back and make another Jeff Paris record. One was a guy called Magnus Soderkvist, who wrote for Okej in Sweden. It was his last year as a journalist, because he would go on to co-found a record label called MTM. He was interviewing all different artists and he asked to come and see what I was doing. I’d just finished the song ‘Lucky This Time’, which I had written without anybody particular in mind. Every so often I’d just write for the love of it - if you listen to my version, there’s a John McLaughlin style intro stuck on there, I’d had that intro for years and didn’t know what it was for. Finally ‘Lucky This Time’ became the song. I had that, stuff I’d written with Skin, stuff for Mr Big... I hadn’t really kept track of all these songs I’d collected, but Magnus asked if he could hear what I’d been working on. So I thought I had better look good... I pulled out all the stops, put on some mixes of things I’d been doing. When you play stuff for people that you’ve done, nobody looks at each other, everyone stares off into space! (laughs) Nobody wants to make eye contact to say ‘Do you like this, or what?’ (Laughs) We’re about three songs in, I turn and look at him and his mouth is just hanging open! He said ‘Jeff, this shit is better than the ‘Wired Up’ record!’ Some people will take issue with that, but that’s what he said, he thought it was incredible. I went ‘It is?’ He said it sounded like a record, and he wanted a copy. So I gave him a tape of like six songs.
About two months later, my publisher calls me and says ‘Hey man, if you’re gonna sign a record deal, you need to tell somebody.’ I go ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about!’ So he faxes me this press release from Now And Then Records, from Mark Ashton, announcing me as their new acquisition! I stared at it and thought ‘Magnus Soderkvist - that little motherfucker!’ (laughs) So I call this guy Mark Ashton and and say ‘Hey, this is Jeff Paris...’ He goes ‘Oh, hello mate, I guess you saw the press release, huh?’ He talked like a leprechaun! But he was a really charming guy, and he said that he didn’t have my number, Magnus Soderkvist had brought the stuff to him and told him it needed to be put out, and he thought it would be okay. So I said ‘Never do that again’. (laughs) But honestly, it had to happen that way, because if it wasn’t for guys like Mark and Magnus, there is no way that stuff would have left my house! I should be thanking those guys, really. Mark laid the deal out and basically they paid for everything and flew me over to perform at the Gods of AOR. Personally, I think, and Dave Reynolds thinks the same, that ‘Lucky This Time’ is the definitive Jeff Paris record.

I couldn’t agree more, I know people love ‘Wired Up’, and while I love all your albums, ‘Lucky This Time’ is special because of the fact it was the first one I bought and I think it’s the strongest, song for song. There’s a great track called ‘Jump The Gun’, co-written with Paul Stanley...

Yeah, he came over - I tend to be a little eccentric and a bit emotionally insecure and sensitive about things. That gets in the way of rational behaviour... you’ll see what I mean as I explain this to you! Paul came over, we hit it off, we grabbed guitars, and we played the basic riff to ‘Jump The Gun’ for about three hours. I have a habit of running away with the song because I’m used to writing prolifically, so I forced myself to hang back and leave space for Paul to put his ideas. I didn’t want to piss him off by leaving him nowhere to go in the song. We finish the session, I had answered his lick with a B-lick, now it was sounding like something. But we never really went anywhere with it. He said he had to go, told me to mess around with it and he’d be back in touch next week. Well, I woke up the next morning, thinking ‘That guy - man, three hours, and that’s all we got!’ (laughs) So I go to the studio, listened back to it, and the song just exploded. What you hear on the record is me going ‘I’ll show this motherfucker!’ (laughs) That track on the record, that was the product of one day’s work, I wrote the rest of the song and cut all the parts myself that day. I figured he’d call me in three weeks, if he even called at all! I pictured him asking if I got anywhere with it, and sending him this tune going ‘Yeah man, I think you’ll like how it turned out!’ (laughs) Instead, the very next day, I get a call from Paul Stanley and he said ‘Hey, have you got anything for that song?’ Oh no... (laughs) I played him it, and he said ‘Wow, I really like it, but... God, you don’t mess around!’ So I told him to take it, if he wanted to throw half the parts out and put his own stuff in there I was cool with that, but I really didn’t know he’d even call back. Anyway, Paul took it and Gene Simmons felt it sounded too much like Def Leppard.
Paul was great though, he said that he didn’t feel like a co-writer of the song so he said I should take sole credit, but I said no, because it started as a fifty-fifty song, that’s the way I roll. I suggested we should write some more, he said sure but we never have. Every time we see each other he’s really nice and affectionate. I’ve seen him at guitar centres, bumped into him at airports, he always comes over to say hi, gives me a hug, Gene will be stood watching saying ‘Who is this motherfucker? How do you know this guy?’ They’re like husband and wife! (laughs)
So really, I never had a true break from being an artist, from ‘Wired Up’, to ‘Lucky This Time’, through to ‘Smack’, because I was laying down stuff for demos that became an album! The funny thing was, after leaving Polygram, I met a guy called Randy Hoffman who was a ‘get back on the horse’ kind of guy, he was a great guy. Good management makes the artist feel wonderful. It was clear when you have high class management, they don’t make you feel like shit, they make you feel like a million bucks. They make everything palatable and if you look at the field that is littered with artists who should have made it but didn’t, it was probably because they had a dickhead manager dragging them down and making them feel bad. Randy called me and told me to get back on the horse, told me to write and look for a deal and that was the right thing to do. I told him a needed a break and was into song writing, and left it there. However, it was down to Magnus Soderkvist to make me realise I even had a record I could put out! (laughs)

You mentioned ‘Smack’, which is a real solo record - you do almost everything on it! I absolutely loved the vibe of this record - was this an attempt to change your sound?

It was like the end of the seventies, with disco - people got so tired of that beat, that sound, the whole genre, that they started burning disco records in America. Labels finally got the message people didn’t want friggin’ disco anymore, which led to a brief love affair with punk and new wave, before hair bands came along. At the end of the eighties, same thing, people were dead tired of slick, corporate rock and grunge came along. As the nineties dawned, along came the Seattle sound. It effectively ended hair metal. It continued on fumes until about ‘93... Mr Big came out in ‘92 and had a good run, sold 3 million records, but after that it sputtered to a halt and hello grunge city! So that explains the sound of ‘Smack’ from a marketing standpoint - if you were associated with hair metal, you had no chance of reinventing yourself as a grunge guy, but you could try and incorporate elements of what was happening, with a wall of sound guitar approach and stuff. The idea you could be more raw and sing about different things - it was interesting to explore that as a writer, it wasn’t simply about trying to exploit ourselves to give us an entry into the next decade. That’s what ‘Smack’ is, a fusion of 80’s and 90’s style music mixed together. Most people hate that record, it’s nice to hear you liked it! For me, I tried to reference pre-grunge artists who were doing experimental stuff way back, stuff like Hendrix and Bowie. So there’s a influence of those guys there. I don’t think it’s that grungy, I was just trying to do something that wasn’t so slick.

Then ‘Freak Flag’ came out, featuring more collaborations, with guest singers on some songs. One was ‘Let It Out’ with Moon Calhoun on vocals, a track, along with some songs from ‘Lucky This Time’, which were part of the ‘Moon Over Paris’ sessions which sadly never came out.

Yeah - ‘Freak Flag’, the material from there was nearly all from the same era as ‘Lucky This Time’. The reason why it didn’t go on ‘Lucky This Time’ is because like you say, a lot of the material on there has vocals by the artists I was working with. What happened, a guy from Bareknuckle as for some bonus stuff he could put on a Japanese release of ‘Smack’. So, instead of sending him two songs, I sent him fourteen! So there was stuff in there with Neville McDonald singing, Derek Davis from Babylon AD, I love those guys and it was fun working with them. I sent all those songs, and Bareknuckle basically decided to put them out as a record instead of picking some as bonuses.
Anyway, I’d been working with Michael Thompson, but I had the interest for a solo deal so I left to pursue that. I suggested Moon, which is how he got the gig for the Michael Thompson Band. I wrote a couple of things on that record, and Moon and I were constantly hanging out, Moon is my brother from a different mother. I said to Moon ‘Hey, people are always saying we should do a two lead singer thing’ so we talked about it, we had six songs in different styles... they all had heavy guitars, but some was more dance or soul orientated. I picked three songs I sang and three he sang that we co-wrote. I put them on a tape and made a couple of copies. I had a great manager then, and I gave him a tape and asked him to shop it, because I thought we really had something. He thought it was great fucking shit, his name was John Campbell, he’d been a member of Parliament and he lived in the UK. He was looking for a UK deal, I didn’t realise I had any traction outside of the US, and there people only knew me as a Desmond Child kind of writer. My toxic former manager didn’t think for one second I had any fan base anywhere for that matter! Anyway, intuitively, I knew the UK was a better place to try Moon Over Paris. I gave the other tape to Moon - he’s my crazy little brother. He drives me nuts! (laughs) So I gave him the tape, I told him not to give it to Alan Niven, who was managing Michael Thompson and Queen... I specifically said don’t give it to Alan, I was giving him it just so he had a copy. Of course, he goes straight to Alan with the tape saying ‘You gotta hear this thing I’m doing with my buddy Jeff!’ Alan duplicated the tape and sent it to everybody he thought could get us a deal. So John Campbell gets to the UK, goes into a meeting, says ‘I’ve got the greatest band, it’s called Moon Over Paris...’ and they go ‘Oh, you mean this?’ They had a tape from Alan, it beat John Campbell to the UK! (laughs) He was livid, really angry, I got pissed at Moon and said fuck it, I’m not doing it. That was idiotic, because I should have realised people were actually falling over themselves trying to get the deal for us, but I was an immature dick. Anyway, Moon and I are still best friends, he’s coming over soon and I intend to transfer all the stuff from Moon Over Paris, record some new songs, and put it out.

Fantastic! About time!

Yeah! I am a bit obsessive compulsive, the idea of doing a new Moon Over Paris record with all new songs is very strong. I love the old material that everyone has fallen in love with, and I don’t want to say ‘Oh, we can’t put that out now, it’s so old’. I’m just figuring out how best to present it. Maybe I’ll do ten new things, with six old things. We can do it ourselves now, we don’t have to have a label dictate anything. A CD can hold twenty songs, so maybe we’ll do that - I like the idea of taking care of unfinished business, finally put out the old stuff and do some new, maybe a part one and part two. We have a new song, a beautiful track called ‘Wheelchair’ which was a bonus track on the Michael Thompson Band reissue, but the original version has a sample of the Zombie’s ‘Time Of The Season’ in it.

Since then, things had gone pretty quiet on the solo front, with you working extensively with artists like Keb Mo and Ringo Starr. However, you have returned with the all-star United Rockers 4U, with a brand new song ‘One Family’. Can you tell me about this project?

Last March, there was the Japanese tsunami disaster. That was the latest of an increase in natural disasters. We’ve had something like fourteen major disasters in a two year period, and there’s nothing like that in the history books. So, whether it’s climate change, bad karma, the end of the world like in that movie 2012, nobody knows, but it’s happening and that tsunami was the topper. Through all these disasters like Haiti, volcanoes erupting, floods across Europe, a few years back there was something that most people have not heard about or forgotten, which was about 15,000 elderly people died in France due to a heat wave. I refer to it and people say ‘oh, come on!’ But it happened, look it up. I didn’t believe the statistic myself, but it’s right there on the internet. There has been a chain of tragic natural killers, culminating in the Japanese tsunami. Each time something happened, I’d watch and think that I should do something, write a cheque or something. But I don’t have that much dough, and who would I write it to? So after the tsunami, I was watching the footage, and I was thinking ‘Man, I hope somebody is doing something.’ The phone rings, and it’s Terry Ilous, my old buddy from XYZ. Terry and I have always been tight, he calls me and asks if I’m watching TV. He says we should do a benefit. I said okay, then Terry said we should write a song. So he came over and I’m like a sleeping giant, you stick a pin in me and I really move, but I need that stimulation! Terry galvanised me, he is chaotic and inspired and is a great foil for me. He encapsulates all the elements of promotion, marketing and things I lack, I have all the creative production thing. We complete each other. We partnered up and wrote this song and it was one of the easiest songs and the best Goddamn lyrics I’ve ever done. Terry got on the horn and starting calling all these guys. He’s a brilliant Bob Geldof type and the next thing I know we’ve booked Bobby Kimball, Don Dokken, Paul Shortino... I was kinda shy about it, but Terry got me out of that fast. So I called people - shit, I called Pat Benetar, Cyndi Lauper, Heart, I called everybody I knew! Most of the guys we called came in person and ended up at my house. I was busting my ass, recording everybody’s vocals in one day - Don Dokken, Bobby Kimball, Robin McCauley, Terry, Eddie Money... Jimi Jamison and Shortino sent their lines from their places, Brian Tichy sent in the drum track from his studio then came over to my house to mix the drums. Everyone worked for free - but get this, I could not get one notable female artist to come over and do something! Even Lita Ford turned me down... because I played on her record, I put a couple of licks down because she was outta town and I didn’t have her permission. She’s still pissed off man, after twenty five years! I couldn’t get one female rocker - I did try!
So we did the production and had to do some other things, we got a lot of help from a great guy named Peter Kalish who helped with our accounts, getting us on iTunes and stuff... Terry and I couldn’t live with ourselves without doing something. We got in touch with the Red Cross, had some meetings and signed up a contract saying they get all the money we generate from this. Now, when I watch the news James, I don’t feel so bad. Originally, we were going to do it just for Japan, then a tornado hit Missouri, so we thought maybe we should give to the Red Cross who can help anybody. Terry organised some gigs and we raised ten grand. So the single is on iTunes and Amazon, or you can navigate to it via our website www.unitedrockers4u.org, it’s just $1.29, or 99p in the UK. All of the money goes to the Red Cross Global Disaster Relief. Those guys are the responders when something happens. So we want people to download the song - for 99p or just over a buck, it’s an inexpensive way to get people to help bump up the Red Cross funds. Those guys give out blood, they are the number three largest supplier of blood in the world, and they aren’t government funded, they survive by donations. So we’re doing interviews with guys like yourself in the hope we can get as many people to buy the single as possible - nobody got paid for this song, we give every penny to the Red Cross. We’ve also gone right through a learning curve to figure this out, we aren’t business men, we could have really screwed this up! (laughs)

It’s a great idea, and that’s why I wanted to cover this to help raise awareness - at the end of the day, it’s actually a really good song to boot!

It really is, and where else are you gonna hear Don Dokken, Terry Ilous, Jeff Paris, Robin McCauley, Phil Lewis, Bobby Kimball, Eddie Money, Paul Shortino and Jimi Jamison singing on the same song? And with the band being Brian Tichy on drums, Rudy Sarzo on bass, Jeff Paris, Michael Thompson, Robert Sarzo and Richie Kotzen on guitars? It’s like ten records in one! We all trade lines, it just felt so great! Someone was speaking through us, it’s a bullseye on lyrical content, it’s not a maudlin, melodramatic ‘oh, poor people’ kind of thing, it’s structured that each line stands up by itself. I’m so proud of what we did, the charge I got from writing that with Terry and seeing there isn’t one thing I’d change about it is inspiring. It’s heartfelt.

Finally, you recently played Firefest with H.E.A.T. and Tommy Denander backing you - I believe you’ve been working with Tommy?

Yeah, Tommy is like the Lone Ranger, he goes to people’s rescue! Tommy got in touch with me via Andreas Carlsson from Sweden. He had Radioactive, his project, in the works and he sent me a couple of tracks. That record seems to be on pause, because he said if I wanted these tracks for my next record, I got them. Well, they are unbelievable. I have to follow up with more Tommy Denander tracks! He’s really busy and I have those songs plus some unreleased stuff from people’s favourite era of mine. Meanwhile, there was a bit of a clamour that I play Firefest. Those Jeff Paris records were a long time ago man, and written in keys that are, I won’t say untouchable, but challenging for a guy who is... over forty, shall we say? (laughs)Kieran needs to know usually by January if you intend to accept his request that you play, so I said yeah, then immediately went into deep stress as it had been eighteen years since I’d played that stuff! There was a groundswell of requests for me, and I was narcissistic enough to get sucked into agreeing! The only way I would do it was if Tommy put the band together, but honestly, the guys learned the songs, we didn’t really rehearse... the week of Firefest I did two four hour rehearsals - one of which was the day of the gig! Watching the YouTube videos of my performance - I have to say I think I sucked. I did damn well for a guy who did a four hour rehearsal, then went to do an hour concert though! (laughs) The fact is, although we planned to meet in Sweden for warm up dates, they didn’t come through, Tommy was really busy... at least I didn’t cancel! Some people gave me positive reviews, despite me having a ‘furrowed brow’ and ‘an unconvincing start’, I think Dave Ling wrote that! We had no sound check, and when I started, the mic sounded to me like it was under water, so I am one of those guys who will sacrifice the first song so I can go to the sound guy and say ‘If you don’t give me more DB in the 10k range, I’m gonna wrap this microphone cord around your neck and strangle your motherfucking ass’. That was the furrowed brow, wondering if the guy was offended that I’d threatened to kill him. (laughs) Anyway, it worked, things improved. The general consensus seemed to be I acquitted myself... decently. You can’t really trust videos on YouTube from iPhones, there was no official recording of that year’s acts, so I think it was probably a bit better than my Gods performance, I worked the stage better and was more theatrical. Singing, I think pretty good after eighteen years of not doing melodic rock. I want to do more shows, maybe some small acoustic shows in Sweden or something.

I’m just glad you’re back, I missed you when you were gone.

Thanks man, and this United Rockers 4U stuff, I hope your coverage will help ramp up the downloads we get. I’ve heard some of the other charity songs people have put out, and all I’ll say is this is classy and I think deserving of 99p or $1.29. Wouldn’t you love to see something make $100,000 for the Red Cross without pressuring anybody into making big donations? This way, for a small amount, you get something really cool to have in return for a small donation that goes to people who give help when we really need it.

“One Family” by United Rockers 4U features an all-star lineup comprised of such artists as Eddie Money, Bobby Kimball (Toto), Don Dokken (Dokken), Jimi Jamison (Survivor), Terry Ilous (Great White/XYZ), Robin McAuley (MSG/Survivor), Jeff Paris, Richie Kotzen (Poison/Mr. Big), Paul Shortino (Rough Cutt), Phil Lewis (LA Guns), Rudy Sarzo (Ozzy Osbourne/Quiet Riot/Whitesnake), Brian Tichy (Whitesnake/Foreigner/Billy Idol), Robert Sarzo (Hurricane), and Michael Thompson. Please support the single - visit www. unitedrockers4u.org

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