Fireworks Magazine

Fireworks Magazine Online 41 - Venice


It’s exciting times for the family melodic rock band from California as they release a new album that captures the band live and amplified while Kipp, Mark and Michael Lennon prepare to participate as backup singers, bringing their trademark harmonies to Roger Waters’ 30th Anniversary Tour of “Pink Floyd’s The Wall”…
Paul Jerome Smith discusses these developments with the members of the band (whom regular Fireworks readers will remember from the previous Venice feature in Fireworks comprises brothers Michael and Mark Lennon and their cousins Kipp and Pat Lennon – who are also brothers!)

Well guys, I don’t really know where to begin, ‘cause I expect three of you must be consumed with pride that you have been invited to participate in such a tour, and one that will last such a long time, that it will cause something of a hiatus in “normal” Venice activities. But I’m going to return to this topic later on and focus first upon the new ‘Electric: Live And Amplified’ album.

I was completely wowed when I gave this a first play. It’s got the most “oomph” of any Venice album, I think……

Mark: Thanks, Paul. We feel like we FINALLY made an album that captures our live sound and feel.
Kipp: Exactly. For so long, we’ve wanted to capture the energy and power of our band’s live shows. Our albums sometimes have come close, but there’s a certain feeling about the live shows: the power of the communal vibe with the audience. And we get so amped playing live as well. Anyway, we were really happy listening back to the mixes. Especially by the end of the show, you can really feel the energy…
Pat: I think Michael [as producer] has come as close as we’ll ever get to capturing that feeling and magic on an album.
Michael: Venice is a live band. We’re the opposite of artists who make great records but then their live show doesn’t quite hold up to what you heard on the studio recording. This album was long overdue.
Pat: I also think our fans have been waiting for this one. We have a meet-and greet after all of our European shows, and all the feedback has been really positive. They enjoy the rock stuff as much as our mellower side.
Michael: One thing I'm really proud of on this live record is that there were no fixes. I’ll admit, I tried replacing an acoustic guitar track on one of the songs that I thought had a bad sound and a few mistakes, but when I listened back, the new track stuck out like a sore thumb and it just didn't feel or sound the same. In the end, I went back to the original guitar track. It's funny, because now it doesn't even bother me when I listen to it. With all the new technology, it’s easy to be tempted to try to make a live record sound too perfect, but I realized that the energy is coming from the live community of musicians playing as a whole, together, and not from each individual having a flawless performance.

I see that your friend Matt Levitz, who runs your Venice Central website at, gets a special mention for all his help with the project, and that he assisted with the audio editing. The audio on the album certainly sparkles, so I guess his “pixie-dust” was a secret ingredient to the great sound of the album…

Michael: I would credit Matt more for the flow of the album than the sound of it. He was a huge help in transitioning from one song to another. We were really pushing the outer limits of a CD’s capacity, because we wanted to fit as many songs on this album as possible. We had more than one CD’s worth of material from the tour, but not enough, in my opinion, for 2 CD’s. I prefer to give one CD of the best of the best, instead of two CD’s where a couple of the songs are not quite up to the quality or performance level of the rest of the material. Matt was instrumental in trimming the fat, while maintaining a pretty natural live flow. Editing is his business.
Kipp: He’s a DVD producer/editor by trade, so he has the patience to sit with Michael for hours, honing it until it’s right. Matt also brought an extra enthusiasm and perspective to the mixing and editing that only somebody who’s known us for so long can bring. After all of our years together, it can be really helpful to have someone else in the room whose opinion we respect - most of the time - and who has a different take on things.
Michael: Matt was also instrumental in building my confidence and pushing me along during the editing and mixing of this album. Just having someone else in the studio with you at 3am is encouraging, and helps to keep you focused on the whole album, and not just the snare drum sound. We had a great time working together, and Matt’s knowledge of Venice’s history was a huge asset when making an album that we were hoping would encapsulate the first album up until the Venice of today.

Of course I recognized some old favourites on the album, including ‘One Quiet Day’, ‘If I Were You’, ‘The Water’, ‘Baby’s Calling’, and two songs that go all the way back to your first album, ‘Pushed Her Too Far’ and ‘All My Life’. But you’ve also leavened the offering with the song ‘Evolve’, that has only appeared on your recent acoustic album ‘Good Evening’, plus one brand new song, ‘High So High’.

What were the considerations you had in mind regarding the song choice for this record? I’m especially interested in knowing why you went all the way back to your major label debut album – ‘cause I didn’t think you’d revisit that record much these days!

Kipp: Well, there are a few songs from that first album that still hold up as songs for us, and we love to play them live. They may capture a time in our songwriting when we were rocking a bit harder, but they still have a Venice sensibility to them that even our newest fans can recognize.
Mark: These songs have stood the test of time over the years, and so they’re always fun to come back to and play every once in a while.
Michael: If Venice is going to make a live rock album, it has to include some of the first songs that paved the way and were instrumental in building the band’s reputation and loyal following. Although we have yet to find major success in the business, the material on our debut album was the key in opening many doors that allowed us to keep the train moving forward. And yeah, the material still holds up when we play it today, 20 years later. Then the new song, ‘High So High’ acts as a nice bookend to the Venice story.
Kipp: ‘High So High’ is an interesting one. The song is about how fame and success in showbiz can be such a tease and such a frustration over the years. Just when you’re ready to say, “Forget it,” just when you’re ready to think “she” doesn’t even care for you anymore, that old feeling comes back and you’ll do anything for “her” to kiss you again. It’s a high like no other.

I notice that both ‘Evolve’ and ‘High So High’ on ‘Electric’ (as well as new songs ‘Pawn Shop’ and ‘One Less Someone’ on ‘Good Evening’) show you're working with a new songwriting collaborator. Tell me, where did Charlie Vaughn come from, and how did he find his way into the fold?

Kipp: Charlie Vaughn is a singer/songwriter here in LA, and he’s actually my son. He’s 29 years old. Back when I was very young, and in a very tumultuous relationship, we gave Charlie up for adoption at birth, and I only just met him 5 years ago. He’s a talented, incredible guy who was thankfully raised by great people. Needless to say, he instantly became a part of our family.
Pat: Charlie just pretty much fits in. When Kipp’s and my mother died in 2005, Charlie sang at the funeral, and it was beautiful.
Kipp: Michael produced his debut album, ‘A Bucket of Joy’, and he plays drums with his band, The Daily Routine. It’s like a movie, in a lot of ways. Crazy and cool.
Michael: It’s amazing to me that this kid grew up loving music, playing guitar and singing, before knowing his biological dad was a musician. Proof that it truly is in the genes. Being in the early part of his musical career and his life, Charlie has a raw love and enthusiasm for making music that reminds me of when I was younger, without all the responsibilities and distractions I have today. Back in the day, on a beautiful hot Summer day in Venice Beach, California, I would choose to stay in my room and play my guitar instead of heading to the beach with my brothers and cousins. Charlie is in that place now, and part of me is jealous of it. But I also realize that I can now play a different role, as a producer who can edit his ideas and hopefully improve them. I can pick the ideas that might fit Venice, but also help him with the songs that work well for his personal career. It’s nice to have someone else throwing out ideas, guitar-wise. The main ‘High So High’ guitar riff was an acoustic riff that Charlie played me that I simplified and made more of a rock riff.
Pat: I must say, I think Charlie is an amazing guitar player. He does things on the guitar that most players wouldn’t think of.
Michael: I look forward to our future with Charlie…

Since my interview with you, back in 2008, Michael, you’ve also released another CD. Here’s your chance to tell the readers of Fireworks Magazine about it too…

Kipp: ‘Good Evening’, which is a live acoustic album, is one of my favorites. In the same way we’ve always wanted to capture the live rock vibe, we’ve also wanted to capture the acoustic show thing. We got a lot of that on here for sure.
Michael: While I was working on mixes for this CD, we’d also been working on some new songs with Charlie Vaughn. So we got the idea to add four new studio songs to the album, as bonus material for the fans. Now, in addition to ‘Good Evening’, we’ve also self-released a live DVD, ‘Alive and Acoustic’, which can be ordered exclusively through our website, It’s a nice contrast to the live DVD that comes packaged with ‘Home Grown’ because that was a full band show that looks and sounds amazing, but is missing the banter and humor between songs that is so often part of our sets. The ‘Alive and Acoustic’ DVD is a much more casual environment, and although it’s not shot with seven cameras or mixed in 5.1 stereo, it captures a part of the band that the ‘Home Grown’ DVD doesn’t: Stripped-down Venice, in a casual setting, playing a lot of rarely performed live songs, and joking a lot with each other. We acknowledge the technical shortcomings with the $10 price we put on it!

I’ve recently become aware of the great work you do with the Artists For The Arts Foundation, which I believe is based in Santa Monica…

Kipp: Yeah, we’re really proud of the Foundation. Basically, it’s a non-profit thing started to help raise funds for the arts programs in various public schools. Sadly, in the US lately, a lot of the arts programs have been drastically reduced or even completely phased out. So we came up with a way to put on huge concerts to help out the kids in music, dance, art classes, etc. Every penny raised by ticket sales go directly to the art programs.
Michael: We also do a live auction during the event, auctioning off items like signed Fender guitars, a pair of tickets to the Grammy Awards, and a DW drum set. It's pretty amazing that we've raised over $600,000 for the schools over the past seven years, doing only one show per year.
Kipp: The real key difference with these benefit shows is that we’re the house band, and we include and feature student musicians all evening playing with world famous artists. For instance, we’ve had Billy Idol and Steve Stevens, Tommy Shaw, Jackson Browne, Ann and Nancy Wilson from Heart, Michael McDonald, Colin Hay, the list goes on and on. So we learn to play some of their most popular songs, and bring in the orchestra from the High School, or the choir or horn section or singers or guitarists. You get the idea. And we rock the house with very talented students leading the way. It’s an absolute blast every year. We get very ambitious with the songs, too. This year, we did ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and ‘Live & Let Die’ with full choir and orchestra. One year, we did ‘Ohio’ with David Crosby, and Michael got the idea to have the High School marching drums come down the aisles of the auditorium. It was fantastic!
Pat: I think the greatest thing about these shows is to watch the kids go from not exactly knowing what’s going on, to having an amazing musical experience with us and the other artists. There have been some wonderful moments, like when Billy Idol asked a young student how she started playing violin, and she blushingly said, “It’s a viola.” The crowd just loved it. But I always say another huge thing is the reaction of the parents. The proud look on their faces as they watch their children play with artists they grew up listening to is really powerful.
Michael: AFTAF is currently based in Santa Monica, but our hope is to take the idea nationwide, and maybe even onto TV or live streaming concerts on the internet. We’re missing the marketing/publicity piece of the puzzle right now. We put on amazing one-of-a-kind shows, but we have trouble getting the word out. It’s just a matter of time before we find that missing person that says, “What you need to do is...” Until that person comes along, we’ll just keep doing what we do, producing great shows.

Which brings us to the really big news…as trailed at the beginning of our interview – the involvement of three of you guys in Roger Waters’ major tour of ‘Pink Floyd’s The Wall’…. There’s 52 dates in North America and Canada already announced, starting in Toronto on 15 September, followed by 2 dates in Mexico City in December, and then a further 38 dates in Europe, including 5 nights at London’s o2 Arena. You have been invited to appear as backup singers, providing your trademark harmonies to the proceedings. Please tell me how all this came about, and what your initial reactions were…

Kipp: A good friend of ours, a singer named Jon Joyce, was one of the original singers on ‘The Wall’ album and tour. When I was starting out in the studio session world of LA, Jon was like a big brother to me. Mark and I have known him for many, many years, and he’s seen the band many times. Well, Roger (I call him Roger now that I’ve met him once) called Jon asking about putting the original background group back together for this new tour. But Jon said that the guys Pink Floyd used back in 1980 had all retired. So Jon suggested Roger try using us, because he knew that Roger’s original idea when recording ‘The Wall’ was to juxtapose a Beach Boys style background sound onto the Pink Floyd sound.
Michael: The first email came in November. A casual possibility mentioned by Jon Joyce. My brother Mark forwarded the email to me while we were on tour in Holland, and I remember being surprised that he didn’t add a comment to the forwarded email from Jon, like, “Oh my God, check into this, this could be huge!” Needless to say, I jumped on it and wrote back to Jon, telling him we’re totally interested, and, “What can we do to move forward?”
Kipp: We sent Roger some stuff of ours, including a live Beach Boys medley we’d been doing on a recent tour. And he wanted more. So we downloaded some Pink Floyd “Wall” stuff on iTunes and dubbed some vocals over it and sent that along. We just kept recording bits and pieces and sending them.
Michael: The next three months seemed like forever: sending demos, waiting for a response, wondering if this was really a possibility. Plus, the whole time, we had to keep it all a secret. We also had to make huge decisions on whether to put our own Venice career on hold, based on the slight chance that we might actually land this historic tour. We had a new album on the calendar with Universal Records for this year that was going to be made with the legendary Dutch Metropole Orchestra. It was going to be an album of west coast covers. This CD would have been released in August with a huge radio push and a big live show with the orchestra at the Heineken Music Hall in Amsterdam, followed by a tour in the Fall. We had to pull the plug on this album because they needed a yes or no, and we decided to roll the dice on the Roger Waters tour, in case the fairy tale actually came true.
Kipp: Roger decided to come out to LA to meet us. It was all very casual and easy. He came one rainy night to Michael’s house in Mar Vista, and sat on the couch as we sang ‘Goodbye Blue Sky’ for him. Really trippy to sing it right there for the actual guy. Then he showed us a bunch of unreleased footage of the original tour, and talked all about the upcoming one. It was very surreal, and yet laid back at the same time. A couple of weeks later, he had us meet up with James Guthrie, who was the original engineer/producer on the album, and we spent the day recreating vocals on various songs from ‘The Wall’. We actually overdubbed onto the original tracks! It was amazing. Our faces hurt from smiling all day.
Michael: Picture going into a studio and they put on, for example, ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ and then they solo John Lennon’s vocal, and then they say, “See, he sings it like that. Try it again.”
Kipp: It was so trippy to hear David Gilmour’s iconic vocals all alone so we could work out the parts. It was like being an archaeologist at times. Really cool.
Michael: It was mind blowing, and it really didn’t sink in until we had left the studio. The tour hasn’t even started yet, but I can already die a happy man, thinking back on this opportunity and the countless others we’ve had to rub elbows with some of the most legendary rock stars in the history of rock n roll.
Kipp: Yeah. So then a few weeks later, we got the call that it was on, and now we’re off to the races…!

This is going to mean a major change to the normal Venice routine, of course. But I guess that the exposure on such a grand scale might help to spread the word about Venice……

Kipp: We’re hoping it will. It’s not like background singers become famous doing tours, exactly, but this is a very special tour, and we are a family from an actual band. So it is an interesting story, I think, to people and Bloggers and local papers, and so on...
Michael: It’s already started. We’ve been contacted by the head of the Pink Floyd fan club in Spain, who checked us out on YouTube and on our webpage, and was asking, “How did I not know about you? You could play here in Spain and be huge.” This was based on Roger’s Facebook announcement of the band line up. So I would imagine that once the tour starts, the exposure will increase tenfold.
Mark: It’s going to be difficult not playing our music for a combined period of about nine months. But we believe exposure of this magnitude can do nothing but help push Venice further into the ears and eyes of people all over the world.
Kipp: Also, it stands to reason that we’ll be meeting a lot of people over the next year or so, and certainly that can’t hurt. We intend to use this experience as a chance for more people to find out about Venice along the way, however we can.

Pat isn’t involved, so I suppose he will be taking care of “normal” business whilst the rest of you are away on tour.

Kipp: Yeah, that’s the only drag for us. They only needed three singers and not four. Still, Pat was the first to say we should go and not miss out on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. And thankfully, Mr. Waters is generous enough that the three of us can send home a nice chunk of our pay to Pat so he can at least share in the spoils, if not the adventure. So it’s bittersweet, but mostly sweet. We’re so thankful to be a part of such a historic tour.
Pat: Obviously I’m heartbroken and disappointed about not getting to go. I went through the whole demos and studio thing, and it was exciting to think we were all going. But I understand the politics, and they absolutely chose the right three. It’s certainly going to be an adventure. I know they’ll be amazing on the tour, and I wish them the best. I can only hope that this will bring us more fans, and we can take our music to more of the world.

I guess the rest of you guys have something of a mixed view to being away from your normal surroundings for so long…

Kipp: You know, it’s always tough to leave home for extended periods of time. Especially since Michael and I both have kids at home. But this opportunity is so huge, not only on a life experience and musical level, but also as a chance to work steadily for such a long period of time. It’s obvious to everyone, including our families, that this is a win/win. We’ll try to bring them to cities here and there, of course, to make them feel like they’re a part of it. Our kids already love telling their teachers and parents of their friends, and getting a kick out of their reactions.

How are the rehearsals going?

Mark: We haven’t started yet, but we’re going to rehearse as much as we can by ourselves first, so we don’t go in there with our drawers down.

I am aware that the epic scale of the stage production means that there will be little or no chance for improvisation and that it all has to be very carefully choreographed – so that will be a major change to the free-flowing nature of what you normally do…

Kipp: The idea of doing a very structured show like this is actually going to be a fun change for us. Especially because this is really as much theatre as it is a concert. So it’s cool to be a part of something so different than our usual shows. It’s so massive and artistic on such a grand scale, musically and visually. We can’t wait to get to the actual production rehearsals and see what it’ll actually be like. From reading articles and researching online, it seems like they’re planning lots of innovations and additions to the production, compared to the first time around. It’ll be as big of a surprise to us as it is to everybody else.

It will mean that Venice music lovers are likely to have to wait quite a while now for a new studio album, and it may not end up being the covers album you mentioned just now – but the touring schedule will, I am sure, help you to write a lot of new material.

Kipp: We’re looking forward to writing on the road. This gives us a lot of extra time to focus on writing. Almost like being forced to be in your twenties again. We’re bringing laptops and guitars, and plan to really enjoy this special time. It’s very inspiring, as you can imagine. The next Venice album is going to be great. We can already feel it.
Michael: It’s been fun dreaming up my ultimate traveling studio. Being the engineer/producer guy, I get into all the tech and gadget stuff, and have to have the newest, bestest stuff! I’m planning on buying a new laptop, an iPad, the new iphone, and any other gadget that is shiny and new and will make my life better and my work faster and easier. Whoopee!

Well, guys, I can only wish you all the fun in the world!

Kipp: Thanks. I feel like we get to be a part of the type of rock tours that never happen anymore. Like it’s the 1970’s and we’re out on the road in a jet, making music and seeing the world. Very, very lucky. We can’t wait to work our asses off!

Thank you for talking with me….When you are in Manchester on the tour, I really hope that we will be able to share a little time together. I’d certainly be very happy to be your guide between the two shows you are doing there!

Michael: Thank you, Paul. We appreciate your interest and your support of Venice. We’ve been together a long time, and we’ve weathered many storms while struggling to achieve greater success. We continue to wonder where next month’s income will come from, but we have no regrets. We get to do what we love, and we’re in control of our own destiny. So many people would kill to do what we get to do, even before this Roger Waters’ tour came along. For that, I’m extremely grateful. Now, with this upcoming opportunity, the monthly nut will not be an issue. At least not for a while. I also think this break will be great for Venice. Being able to step back from our normal (or abnormal) everyday life, and the responsibility that comes with sustaining our own career, in order to step up and support one of the most historic tours in rock history: The Wall Tour! It’s weird to hear myself say that. Holy fuck!

In conclusion I would like to thank Matt Levitz for his invaluable and tremendous help in coordinating this interview between myself and the band. His assistance in the process and also in providing some very interesting background material has been outstanding.


Venice Band


Fireworks Magazine Online 41 - Thin Lizzy

“That’s the thing with Viv, with Lizzy being his favourite band, with him coming in, the vibe is just fantastic... If this hadn’t worked in any way whatsoever, we’d have been out of that rehearsal room in five minutes - if they didn’t think I was up to singing the songs, I would’ve known and Scott would’ve told me straight away. The fact that it clicked straight away shows you that there’s good chemistry there.”

Five questions with Ricky Warwick and Viv Campbell - interviewed by Sue Ashcroft, about the reformed Thin Lizzy. Extracted from the full feature in Fireworks 41.

So Ricky, from being in the Almighty and recently playing in my home town at the Café Continental in Gourock, you’re now the lead singer in Thin Lizzy – how on earth did THAT happen?
RW: Basically, what happened was, there’s a friend of mine – an author and TV producer called Allan Parker, and he called me way back in January this year and said “I was talking to Adam Parsons (who’s the manager of Thin Lizzy) and Scott (Gorham) is wanting to put the band back together and your name has come up as a potential vocalist.” I was like “Wow, that’s amazing, I’m really honoured.” He said, “That’s all I can tell you now, that’s all I know, but can I pass your details on to Adam Parsons in the meantime?” and I said “Okay, by all means”. Lo and behold, Adam calls me about a week later and asked me if I was interested. I said I was. I said, “Look, there’s a couple of things – of course I’m interested, they’re one of my favourite bands of all time but my biggest concern is, what are you trying to do here? If you’re trying to do a Lizzy tribute, if you’re trying to clone Phil in any way, he was a one off, he’s irreplaceable, I just wouldn’t dream of going there.” He said “Well, Scott’s wanting to put the band back together with complete respect and homage to Lizzy’s past, but he wants to try and take it forward.” I said, “Well obviously, it would be something I’d be very interested in. Are you looking for me to play bass and sing?” and he said “No, not necessarily, we’re looking for a whole new look.” I said, “That’s great, but with all due respect, I’m not going to audition for this, I’m not going to put myself in a room with twenty other guys. I have a career, people know what I sound like. I’ve known Scott as a friend for over twenty years and he played on my first solo record, Scott knows I can sing, so why don’t you come and check me out – I was doing a solo show at the House Of Blues, opening for Cheap Trick? Come down and see me and you’re going to know within the first minute whether you think I’m the right guy for the job or not.” So he did and he obviously liked what he heard and what he saw and we arranged a rehearsal. We all knew that within a few minutes of walking in and playing at the rehearsal, if it was going to work or not. Nobody would have to tell me if it sucked and vice versa. We walked in and played ‘Cowboy Song’ and it sounded fucking incredible! We ran straight through it without stopping and it sounded huge and there were smiles all round.

I’m sure they were a huge influence on both of you when you were growing up?
RW: Oh god – absolutely! I mean, the Almighty would’ve stolen from Thin Lizzy when we were writing. Any of the albums we were listening to at the time we would’ve been like “Oh, we’ll nick that bit” or what have you. But originally being from Belfast and having two older sisters that were very into rock music, that’s how I got into Lizzy because they were into them and would bring the albums home. I was always freaked out by how they looked – Scott with his hair down to his ass, Phil looking the way he did, they were like these aliens to me. I used to see them on Top of the Pops and I was completely fascinated by them. I remember thinking “Who are these people? This is great!” It’s very, very, VERY surreal. I mean, I wake up in the morning and go “Oh my God – I’m singing for Thin Lizzy!” It’s just nuts! You have flashes of it throughout the day. It’s brilliant, I mean, I’m a fan – a fan who’s singing for one of his favourite bands.

What were your thoughts on the previous line-up?
RW: To be absolutely honest with you, I hadn’t seen it. For whatever reasons, whenever they played in LA I was always on the road, or I was away, otherwise I would’ve gone. I only know what people told me and okay, John Sykes was a great guitar player and I thought he sang brilliantly. From what I saw on Youtube, it looked great. But, for whatever reason, Scott and John just decided to call it quits.

To me, this incarnation will be far more back to the grass roots that Lizzy came from in the first place with not only three members who were in the band when Phil was alive, but with two Belfast boys coming in with the Celtic roots and having grown up with Thin Lizzy in your blood. I personally can’t see how you can go wrong. I know that since you and Viv have been such fans all your life that you’ll do the songs proud. When it comes down to it, these are feel good songs, aren’t they?
RW: I completely agree with you. I was saying this to somebody recently, they’re such beautiful songs to sing. Phil was such a fantastic songwriter, but he was also a really underrated lyricist. His lyrics are amazing and I don’t think he ever got the credit that he was due for his writing – it was pure poetry. I mean, some of the songs, he’s almost talking and he’s not a screamer. He had a fantastic voice. They’re such good songs to sing and they put a smile on your face when you’re singing them! I agree with everything you said, Sue. That’s the thing with Viv, with Lizzy being his favourite band, with him coming in, the vibe is just fantastic. People have to give us credit. If this hadn’t worked in any way whatsoever, we’d have been out of that rehearsal room in five minutes. Nobody would’ve needed to tell anybody – if they didn’t think I was up to singing the songs, I would’ve known and Scott would’ve told me straight away. The fact that it clicked straight away shows you that there’s good chemistry there.
VC: Thin Lizzy have always been a Celtic band, so I would think – even though Scott’s a Californian! That’s part of the heritage. The set-list issue though, I know how that works. We have the same issue with Def Leppard. We go on tour and, even if we have a brand spanking new album, 90% of our set is from the classic era of the band and you can’t really get away from that. Same goes for Lizzy. I mean, I totally understand. I’ve been going through the set-list with Ricky, Brian, Scott and everyone back and forth and it’s hard to avoid playing basically the ‘Live and Dangerous’ album, give or take a few songs. You kind of have to do that. It’s a bit of a double-edged sword and a bit of a burden at times, but you’ve got to enjoy playing them and try to bring a freshness to the songs and do your own adaptations. When we do the UK tour next January, our goal is to have core of about fifteen songs and then about seven floaters which we can pull from. I don’t know what Scott’s plan is, but I’d like to see a couple of different songs every night of the UK tour be just a little bit obscure.

Was there never a chance of Scott asking Brain Robertson to be a part of the band?
RW: Again, what I can gather from Scott – I know Brian and have done for years – Brian was asked. That was one of the first phone calls that was made once Brian Downey came back into the fold (I have to say – playing with that man on drums – my jaw just hit the floor, he’s such a good drummer) but Robbo was asked and he politely declined. He gave it his blessing and said that at the moment it’s not what he wants to do, but certainly the door has been left open for him. I know he’s just finished a solo album which I’ve heard a few tracks of and they’re absolutely brilliant. I was blown away by it and I told him so. I think that’s where his head’s at at the moment and that’s what he wants to do. Somewhere down the road – who knows? I mean, Viv has a day job, so who knows? [laughs)
VC: As a fan I would love to see that happening, I mean I would love to see them playing with Brian Robertson again, but if he’s not going to do it then that leaves a fantastic opportunity for me. He was a huge influence on me as a guitar player and, as a member of Sweet Savage – who I formed when I was sixteen – we did a lot of work with Lizzy and supported them on the Renegade tour and a bunch of other shows in Northern Ireland. I’m really, really excited about it and, as a guitar player, it’s reignited my passion for playing. I know I’ve been in Def Leppard a long time and I do love being in the band, but it doesn’t challenge me a lot as a guitarist. Leppard is much more challenging vocally and song-writing wise, but the main guitar duties are primarily with Phil Collen obviously, so being in Lizzy has just been really great, taking on Brian Robertson’s parts and stripping them back and learning from scratch. They’re such fun to play and I’m very excited about it.

Read the full three page interview in Fireworks 41, available in WHSmiths or right here in the shop at Rocktopia.

Thin Lizzy

Fireworks Magazine Online 41 - Joe Elliott

“I’m trying to create an environment here, through any given opportunity I get, to try and express to anybody that cares to listen, that there is more to classic rock than ‘Stairway to Heaven’ and ‘Freebird’.”

Five questions with Joe Elliott - interviewed by Sue Ashcroft, about the new Down 'n' Outz project which pays tribute to music from Ian Hunter, British Lions and Mott The Hoople Extracted from the full feature in Fireworks 41.

Speaking of the Down ‘n’ Outz (the whole reason for the interview after all!), when did you first hear Mott the Hoople? What started it all for you?
It was 1971. I don’t remember exactly what the order was because it’s so long ago, but at some time in 1971 a few things happened. Island Records released some sampler albums. I mean, in this day and age they would just have been given away on the front of magazines, but back then, you had to buy them. You earned the right to play them and, love them or hate them, you spent your pocket money on them. One of the Island Samplers was called El Pea – it had a big pea on the front. It had all the artists of the day represented by one song – Jimmy Cliff, Jethro Tull, Free, Mott the Hoople, Fotheringay – just everybody that was on Island Records. The Mott the Hoople song that was on that album was called ‘The Original Mixed Up Kid’ and I just remember thinking, what a great title. Then, listening to the lyrics and thinking yeah, bit of a loner, bit of an oddball – it was like me at school. It was like they’d written the soundtrack of my then eleven years. It was interesting that writers like Ian (Hunter) probably thought he was the only one, but he was writing that song for all the people who felt like that out there and there were obviously more than him. That’s why songs resonate with people, because they feel something of the song in themselves. That’s why they become their wedding song or their funeral song or whatever. The other pivotal moment was Radio Luxembourg playing ‘Downtown’ – Mott’s cover of the Donny Wooton song. So, every night I’d be under the bed sheets with the radio and my dad would be screaming up the stairs “turn that thing off – you’re supposed to be asleep!”, listening to Radio Luxemburg fading in and out and hearing that song every night once an hour, on the hour.

So, what prompted you to form the Down ‘n’ Outz all these years later?
Well, when Mott decided to reform – which was about a year ago now – of course, I was extremely excited and who wouldn’t be? I was getting hush, hush emails from Trudy and Ian (Hunter) telling me not to say anything, but I was writing back going “Wow, that’s amazing!” and they were saying “you HAVE to be involved, we know that – you’ve been our ambassador for over 25 years” and I said “so, what do you want me to do – introduce you on stage?” and they said “no, I think you need to do something a bit more than that!” It was actually Mick Brown from Jerkin’ Crocus who were promoting the show who, coincidentally looks after the Quireboys, he said “Why don’t you open for them on the last night?” I said “With whom playing? You’re not going to get Leppard to do it!” and he said “The Quireboys will do it!” and I’m going “Are you sure?” and he said “Oh yeah, they’d love to!” I said “What about Spike?” and he said “He’ll be fine, don’t worry.” So, I got talking to Paul Guerin and we just made a plan. I said “I’m going to pick ten songs and I’ll email them to you and we’re going to learn them” and that’s what we did all last summer. We were in various different areas of the world – I was in the back of my bus in the States at every given opportunity, listening to the songs and playing along on guitar and they did the same thing during Quireboys soundchecks. Then Damon (Williams) was never going to play bass, so we got Ronnie Garrity in, who’s from your neck of the woods!

Is there a chance of another album then?
You’re spoiling the surprise now, but when you see the artwork on the sleeve – even the one that’s being given away with Classic Rock, on the chalk board on the back it says ‘Volume 1’ which kind of hints at at least Volume 2?! We’ve talked about it and I’ve kind of got a game plan going on. I think they trust me, that’s the good thing about it – it’s not a solo project, but there’s a leader here. I think they’re willing to say it’s not broken, so it doesn’t need fixing. I’ve been cherry-picking stuff for the next album, which WILL actually feature some Mott the Hoople songs. It’ll also feature stuff from the other 3 bands, British Lions, Mott and Ian’s solo records. There’s a little pot of songs that we want to attack when we get time off and get the chance to do them. In fairness, we recorded while we were rehearsing in Sheffield – we recorded everything we did, so we’ve actually got a studio version of ‘Love Lies Bleeding’ in the can, but that won’t be for the SECOND album, that’ll be for the THIRD album because the third album is going to be not Mott, but stuff from the same era. It’ll be a bit more broad, if you like. By the fourth album – if we stick to this schedule, because it’s just in our heads at the moment, but that might not be for five years. We’ll write our own songs, but they’ll sound similar to the songs that we’ve covered. We’re going to write to order in a certain way, which everybody does. I mean, Johnny Marr writes songs that sound like the Smiths, Angus Young sits down and thinks “OK, I need to write some songs and they need to sound like AC/DC”. What we’re going to do, is sit down and write some songs that sound like Mott and it’s a whole new musical experience. That’s the long term game plan, we’ll see what happens. Every one of these songs is significant in their own way, but it’s not necessarily a lyrical thing like Bob Dylan “the answer my friend is blowing in the wind…” resonated because of a breakup with a girlfriend, it’s musical as much as it’s lyrical. At the time of my life when I heard them there was a lot more innocence in the world and especially in mine. You didn’t have any cares, you didn’t have aching bones, it was summer all year round, you ran off to nightclubs, you went to see bands, you sat in the park listening to Allan Freeman on a Saturday afternoon whilst hiring a rowing boat for 20p for half an hour.

You didn’t have to worry about a mortgage or kids or whatever.
No, your biggest worry was whether or not you had enough money left to buy an ice cream with a flake in it! It’s going back to innocent times, if you like. Yes, you can never capture it again, but I don’t think there’s any harm in looking for the Holy Grail. At the same time, it’s doing that and it’s starting to lean a different way and I notice that, by talking about it all the time, I’m actually leaning towards – not so much the future, but I’m trying to create an environment here, through any given opportunity I get, to try and express to anybody that cares to listen, that there is more to classic rock than ‘Stairway to Heaven’ and ‘Freebird’.

Well, while you’re all on a year off, what’s your opinion on the new Thin Lizzy lineup?
I’m biased because I’m friends with every one of them. So – is it Thin Lizzy? By name, yes of course. There are the nay-sayers who’ll say “without Phil Lynnott it doesn’t count”, but it’s better than a covers band. As good as Limehouse Lizzy are, I’d rather see Scott Gorham and Brian Downey doing it. So, I have no objections to them doing it.

Joe Elliott

(photo copyright © Ash Newell Photography 2009)

Fireworks Magazine Online 41 - Ronnie James Dio


The word legend is one that has been overused of late, being used to describe everything from second rate football players to talentless pop-star wannabees, but when it comes to the world of metal and hard rock, there can be absolutely no denying that Ronnie James Dio truly was a veritable legend. Here was a man that reached the top of his field with not one, not two but three different bands, a man who is cited by hundreds, if not thousands of singers as an inspiration and an influence. A man who was truly loved and respected by virtually everyone that had the pleasure to meet him.
It was Ronnie that got me into metal when I was a 13 year old ABBA fan. My brother Chris joined the Britannia Music company, and the first album he bought was Rainbow Rising. A few listens to that monumental classic was all it took me to embrace this musical form termed ‘Heavy Metal’, and I have lived with my music close to my heart ever since.
I never got to meet Ronnie – the one time we were due to meet in person at Nottingham Rock City, the gig was canceled due to sound-proofing repairs being carried out at the venue. I did, however, interview him over the phone several times over the years, and always found him to be an intelligent, erudite and humorous man, but also a man with a great dignity, humility and love for his fellow men.
The first interview I did with Ronnie was back in 1990, for the fanzine Boulevard. It was one of the most in-depth and revealing interviews I’ve ever seen with Ronnie, and as only several hundred people will ever have read it, I figured it would be a fitting tribute to the great man to reproduce it here, so that many more of his fans could have the chance to see into the heart and mind of the man who truly was the greatest hard rock singer ever heard.

Your original name is Padavona. Where did the ‘Dio’ originate from?

“Well Padavona is of Italian extraction. The name was a bit long and hard to pronounce and I felt if I had to carry on in this business and try to make something of myself I should have a name that’s a little bit easier to deal with. I saw the name in a book – it was the name of a Mafia leader. At least he was Italian though probably not a very nice person. I thought yeah, that will do and not until years later did I realise, when someone told me when I was with Sabbath, that it meant ‘God’. I certainly didn’t take the name because of that – I haven’t got that much of an ego.”

I bought a couple of ELF albums years back and was very surprised at the musical style – almost gospel, but since Rainbow everything’s been in a similar vein. How much influence has Richie Blackmore had in shaping your musical direction, or was it you that influenced Blackmore during that period of Rainbow?

“Deep Purple were my favourite band and I was lucky enough to tour with them when I was with ELF. We did about seven or eight world tours with Purple and I got to know them very well. But the most important thing for me was to see Richie play and the band play because I thought they were just magnificent. Before that, what I think shaped ELF was that the piano was one of the basic instruments of the band, as opposed to the guitar. The first ELF album was guitar, the second mainly piano and I think that tends to push you towards a certain kind of musical image, and in this case we were more honky-tonk, but honky-tonk with the influence of Sam Cook and Otis Redding on me as a vocalist, so you have a cross-over kind of thing. I guess some of it could be described as gospel. I was really influenced by the gothic style of music that Purple played and so when I joined up with Richie I’d always wanted to do that anyway. I think in Richie’s case and my case, we influenced each other quite a bit. I brought to him what I had in ELF, some of my R&B attitudes with my love of classical music and Richie’s love of classical music and his gothic approach to it. That’s what really made Rainbow what it was ... between Richie and myself anyway.”

Do you ever have contact with Richie and would you ever consider working with him again, or would that be a backward step in your opinion?

“I’ve seen him twice since I left Rainbow in 1978. I saw him once in Los Angeles and again at the Monsters of Rock shows we played in Germany, which was about three years ago. We did two shows with Purple and I only saw him from a distance, not to speak with him. He didn’t make any attempt to speak to me and I didn’t make any attempt to speak to him. It seems to be one of those very strange situations where two people who made such good music together, and who really liked each other, especially at the beginning, just seem to have gone their separate ways. I don’t understand why ... he’s never said anything bad about me in the press and I’ve never said anything bad about him. It’s very strange, although he’s a strange individual. As far as working with him goes ... I don’t know. I was never really that keen towards the end of it, about his musical attitude. I don’t really think he’s progressed that far. That rather bothered me a bit. I think he’s a bit too full of himself and his treatment of audience’s is bad. If it sounds like I’m slagging him off, I’m not trying to do that at all, I’m just telling the truth and my own feeling about what he does.”

Don’t you think it’s a bit hypocritical to say Blackmore hasn’t progressed when that is one of the main criticisms levelled at yourself?

“I think I’ve progressed more than he has progressed. I think he went in a different direction – at least I stayed true to what I’ve done. Rainbow went from a band like in Rainbow Rising and Long Live Rock and Roll to being a Foreigner sound-alike. I listened to the Purple stuff when they reformed ... the first album I thought showed some promise, it didn’t show a lot of progression but at least it showed promise. I thought the second was a complete and utter waste of time! As far as progression goes he still played very well but I thought most of the first album and all of the second was just a chance for him to look up his own behind, like the rest of the band. I think it was, once again, ‘Richie is our God, so let’s cater to him.’ As far as our music progressing, I don’t feel you can have a ton of progression within this kind of music because if you do, it isn’t the same music. You have to stay true to it. As far as progression goes, I think we’ve been more progressive than Richie has within the music he’s made, but I think I’ve had my stumbles and falls as well as he has. Some of the albums, ‘Dream Evil’ for example, I felt was a collection of nuts and bolts that weren’t tightened down and didn’t really make a lot of sense. But that’s a reflection on how you feel at the time as well. At least I’ve always been single-minded about the music. I’ve always felt it has to be one way, in one form and one shape and I’ve just tried to look a little more forward with the people I’ve played with. I think this album shows that now, getting into the 90s with some people who are thinking more modern, and that’s made a great difference to me personally.”

Your lyrics must be amongst the deepest and most well thought out in rock. How long does it take you to write a complete set and what experiences do you draw on?

“It depends on the song. Sometimes it comes very quickly; sometimes it takes a little bit more. My experiences are usually from life. Sometimes I take these life experiences and put them in a more shadowy form, whether it be the romantic attitude of medieval times or the fantasy of ‘Lady of the Lake’ or whatever. I happen to be a real romantic; I love that period of time, just because of the attitudes. I wouldn’t want to live in those time though – no running water, no toilets etc. I just like the attitude and the thought that the knight saved the damsel in distress and went off and killed the dragon. I thought it was so surreal and romantic, but I tend to, most of the time, draw from real-life experiences ... the hurt that I’ve had or the hurt I see other people having in the case of ‘Rock and Roll Children’. I try to write my songs for people, for people who are lonely, who feel they need someone or something to grasp onto. Most of the letter I get from people who have appreciated what I’ve done in a lyrical sense will write to me and say thank you for writing this particular song, without it I don’t think I could’ve gone on .. I’d feel like committing suicide. It’s very touching to me and very hurtful that there are people out there who would want to take their own lives. I don’t write songs so they will stop feeling that way, I write songs that come from my soul and obviously I must have some of their feelings within myself as well. I write sometimes not very directly so it allows the person to make up their own mind what the song is about.”

Many of your lyrics have an underlying theme of good versus evil, such as ‘Heaven and Hell’, ‘Rainbow in the Dark’ etc. Being introspective for a moment, would you sat that you, personally, are ostensibly good or evil, and what do you base your judgement upon?

“I am definitely good. I’ve never wanted to be evil and I’ve never thought of being. My feeling is that we all have good and evil inside of us and that is where God and the Devil reside. In my own opinion one does not have to go to a house with a cross or Star of David to find God because God resides in each of us and it’s up to us to make the decision whether we’re going to be good or evil.  Examples of me not being evil I guess are that I’ve just tried to live a life of good values given to me by my folks.  I was brought up a Catholic. I’m not a studying Catholic but I appreciate the fact that I was given those good values and so was able to make my own judgement. It’s difficult to say one is a good person without throwing compliments at myself ... I just am what I am. I know that when I look in the mirror each day I can ask ‘Are you a good person?  Did you do something good for yourself or someone else today?’ and my answer is always yes. I’m proud of me. That makes me a good person in my eyes.”

Now I’m not trying to be snide here Ronnie, but when I saw your photo in the inner sleeve I thought ‘Oh God, not the Devil sign again!’ Don’t you think you are in danger of becoming a mere joke figure if you persist in this?

“I’ll tell you what that is, and it’s not the Devil sign. Signs depend on what they’re perceived to be, and that is just something I have become associated with. It’s a sign from my culture, again Italian, which is to ward off the Evil Eye. It is not the Devil’s sign – it’s just what people make it out to be ... the same as with Black Sabbath.  What a wonderfully evil sounding name, so everyone thought Ozzy, Geezer, Tony and Bill were the Devil incarnate, which was not true at all. They were good people who had good values but you have people out there who want you to be something that perhaps you’re not. In most instances when they take the photo it’s the photographer who says “Give me the sign,” and that will be the picture that’s chosen. I don’t choose the photos.”

I know you don’t like dissecting your lyrics but there are a couple of questions I want to ask you. Firstly, what is ‘Children of the Sea’ referring to? Is it Armageddon?

“When I wrote that song it was meant to be a social comment that probably does refer to exactly that.  But the social comment was that we seem to be getting so far ahead of ourselves, now proven virtually eleven years later, that we should have learned to walk before trying to run – we have global warming, the environment just falling apart around us, extreme over-population, starvation – all the things that lead me to the song ‘Lock Up the Wolves’, which is a reflection of all those people who don’t care about our environment, who don’t care about humanity – the wolves of war, the wolves of destruction, the wolves of starvation. But ‘Children of the Sea’ was meant as a social comment by me to say ‘Let’s slow down, let’s look at ourselves. Let’s protect each other and be good human beings,’ and I learned a great lesson from that – that it doesn’t matter a toss what you say. I mean, you cannot change the world with a song, it just doesn’t work. You have to change it with your heart.”

Something that always bugged me for years is the line in ‘Heaven and Hell’ which says “When you walk in golden halls, you get to keep the golden falls”. What is that meant to mean? [I learned 20 years later the line is actually ‘the gold that falls’. D’oh!!]

“If you look at all the things that are said in that particular part ...The world is full of kings and queens who blind your eyes and steal your dreams, it’s Heaven and Hell. They’ll tell you black is really white, the moon is just the sun at night” ... all those things are lies. Everything is a lie. And they say ‘When you walk in golden halls’, it’s the most wonderful thing you can do – to walk in Heaven’s halls – you get to keep the gold that falls. It’s bullshit. The next line should have said ‘It’s bullshit!’ Instead is says ‘It’s Heaven and Hell’. [In fact, the next night in Manchester, Ronnie did indeed sing the line ‘It’s bullshit!’ totally making my night.] It’s just impossible, it’s all promises and lies and I just wanted to say that as a warning. But the most important lie to me, of course, was ‘The world is full of kings and queens...’, these people out there who are looking to take the dreams of the young, their innocence, and then drop them like a shattered piece of glass. It’s Heaven and Hell ...”

That line is by far your most well known. Have you ever consciously tried to come up with something more profound?

“I’ve never tried to do that. I don’t look at myself as some kind of poet at all, even though I’ve been accused of that – it’s always the music that inspires me to write something. I don’t consciously sit around and just write words, although I am good at it. I’m good at writing and I probably will write a book myself someday. I’ve had so many experiences that I need to purge myself of my own devils. But as far as lyrics go, I let the music lead the lyrics. If there’s a statement that I make, it’s only the germ of an idea that I’ve had within my mind which has nothing to do with the music, but I think will give me a good working title and allow me to write some sort of storyline that will work for the music.”

Would the book be autobiographical or fiction?

“Well I’ve already written a screenplay which I’ll do when I have the time. It’ll mean 5 unadulterated years of my life to do it. Usually screenplays are not like books because you don’t have to go so in-depth, you can usually let the visuals take care of a lot of things you didn’t write. In the case of the book I’m sure it will be autobiographical. Again, a way of casting off my devils and to show myself that I can write without the music.”

I realise you probably don’t want to give them the satisfaction of rising to the bait bit I’d like to know  how you feel about the totally unprofessional conduct of so called journalists who have been reduced to making snide remarks about your height.

“Well, not replying to it is the best way of reacting. I think if you let it niggle at you and you do go on a big crusade about it, it’s their way of saying, “See, we got to you, didn’t we?” And it doesn’t really bother me.  I think the most hurtful thing about it all is that it doesn’t hurt me, but it may hurt someone who is a lot smaller than I am. I mean, after all, I’m not a midget and I’m not a dwarf. You know that and everyone knows that. But what about the people who legitimately are? It’s not very fair on these people. How must they feel in reading in a magazine that one of their heroes who has, forgive the pun, risen above what might be smaller stature than most, is having shit thrown at him for that? I think that’s the most hurtful part and I think that time after time, when they do use their unprofessionalism for their own ends, I think that says it all – and to reply to it just gives it a legality, so I don’t read it and don’t even think about it as I find it just rubbish.”

I was thinking in particular about KERRANG! When Wendy sent a telegram offering an interview as long as they made no pathetic jokes about your height, and what did they do? They published the telegram and made a joke out of it!

“Well, it’s a horrible publication. It seems to be published so the editor and writers can look at their own words and not really tell the truth about anything. You know, ‘Ronnie Dio baiting’ has become very fashionable by just a few people, but I would never let a few unconcerned fools sour me on the rest of the press. I’ve met too many wonderful people on the way who have always supported me, who have been my friends, and I’m not going to let that make me think that all journalists and critics are fools. That’s stupid, that’s the wrong attitude and again, they’re only hurting themselves. They’re doing nothing to me. It’s the people I care about, I’m not making music for critics, I’m making music for people and if they like me and like this band then they’ll come to the show. By continually writing these kinds of articles they’re only really hurting themselves.”

Looking back at the Hear N’ Aid project, has the experience put you off charity records and how disappointed were you with the apathy of the media?

“No, it’s not put me off charity work. I’ve continued to do charity work for an organisation in Los Angeles called Children of the Night, which is an organisation which takes young people, from the ages of ten to seventeen, off the streets of Hollywood – kids who’ve come to be successful actors and actresses, models and musicians and find themselves turned to prostitution, drug addiction and drug pushing. I’ve got very involved with this one. We did a charity show there at a place called Irvine Meadows and raised over $100,000 that night for them. I’ve continued to work within the organisation on a personal level and will continue to do so. After all, these are the people who buy the records I make, who have allowed me to be someone and something, so that is a charity I will continue to support. So it didn’t put me off charities but it did put me off people’s attitudes because I felt it was such a good project done by so many good people who had such a great talent, but who just got laughed at most of the time. We did raise more than a million dollars from the project – where it has gone and if it’s in the right places, I don’t know but I hope so. We put it in the hands of We Are the World, the famine relief for Africa organisation who I totally believed in then and still do now. The apathy was unfortunate. We all did it from our hearts ... the kids accepted it well, I just don’t think the media attention was nearly enough because the people that were doing it, of course, were always going to be looked upon as being evil, stupid, dirty uncaring drug addicts, alcoholics ... all the things that people at my end of rock and roll are perceived to be, so it wasn’t given any real substance. The song happened to be a hell of a good song, and the players that gave their time, their talent and their care and love ... I couldn’t ask for anything more than that. They did what I asked them to do – it’s unfortunate the media didn’t do what we asked of them.”

Is there anyone in the business you’d like to work with?

“I would like to, when Dio the band has taken a hiatus or ceased to be, work with Tony and Geezer again. I’d really like to do that one more time. I loved writing with Tony, I loved being around Geezer ... he was my best friend. It’s a shame that it kind of fell apart but it was so much fun to be in that bands because we were all the same kind of people – we were all from working class families with working class attitudes and we didn’t have any pretences about ourselves ... we just wanted to be happy and write music.  Life has got more difficult since then – once you start to have the success we had in Dio in the beginning, you always seem to have something that you have to live up to. In Sabbath we didn’t have anything to live up to ... we just did it because we liked it, we liked to be around each other. That’s what I’d like to do one more time. It’s a shame it couldn’t have lasted because we had so many more places to go, so much more music to write and so much more happiness to experience, but then, that’s life. I don’t look upon it as a regretful time. As I say, life is meant to be what life is meant to be, but I’d really like to give it a try again. I also want to go into the film side of things as I said before. It’s just a way for me to extend what I do now. I think in very visual terms.  When I write a song I see it come alive in my mind and I’d like to be able to do that in a film way. I hope I haven’t given you too many answers ... I’d just like one more go at writing a few songs with the lads.”

So, final question Ronnie. What would you like to be remembered for in 50 years time?

“Oh, I don’t really care what they remember me for. I’ll be dead by then anyway and my bones won’t care.  I’ve only ever tried to do one thing – to be true to myself and true to the people who have cared about me and have appreciated some of the music I have made in my life. I never set out to be someone who would be remembered ... Mr Wonderful. I only set out to enjoy myself in life and I’ve had that enjoyment by the music I’ve made and the people who’ve appreciated it. If they do remember me, I hope it’s just for caring.”

Ronnie, you will be remembered for so much more than that.
The man may be gone, but his memory and legacy remains, firmly etched into the annals of hard rock and metal history. And it may have taken 17 years, but I am so happy Ronnie finally got his greatest wish to join up again with Tony and Geezer and create the music that he loved.
And although we grieve for all the un-written words and unsung songs, let us also rejoice in the life and works of Ronnie James Dio, and remember him for the joy he gave us, and the edifying message he gave to the world – be good and love your fellow man.

Ronnie James Dio

Fireworks Magazine Online 41 - Taz Taylor Band


The Taz Taylor Band is due to release their 3rd album in July, entitled ‘Big Dumb Rock’. Under the moniker of The Taz Taylor Band, it is a return to Taz Taylor’s instrumental roots. The band was formed following his solo album Caffeine Racer in 2005. The next year saw the release of Welcome To America with Graham Bonnet on vocals. Two years later following two international tours including a very abrupt parting of the ways with Graham Bonnet, a second line up was formed. Keith Slack (ex MSG) became the new singer with Val Trainor retaining drum duties and Dirke Krause on bass.
With Keith Slack still in the band, they are perhaps surprisingly about to release an instrumental album Big Dumb Rock. Rob McKenzie caught up with Taz Taylor himself on a transatlantic call to find out more.

Tell me about your new album?
We decided to make an instrumental album this time around for a number of reasons. A lot of people seem to think that they would not enjoy a completely instrumental record. I would like the opportunity to change their minds about this. A lot of instrumental artists are perceived as being somewhat pretentious, or that they take themselves oh so seriously. Their music is deliberately esoteric, leaving people with the notion that they could not appreciate it because you have to be a musician to understand it. Our instrumentals are not like that. We do not have song titles that are named after guitar techniques, or songs that were written around a particular technique. If you like rock music, guitar solos, riffs, drums etc, and don’t necessarily buy records just for the vocals, then there is a good chance you will like our instrumentals! We had a blast writing, rehearsing and recording this, and it represents truly what this band is all about. Personally, this record says more about where I am at as a guitar player than anything I have done before. These songs will be a blast to play live also, which is where this band has always been at its best.

Were you supported in your choice of direction by your record company?
We’re not with a record company, we are fiercely independent. Escape [record company for the ‘Welcome To America’ and ‘Straight Up’ albums] had said in the past that they would have no interest in an instrumental project whatsoever even though they did have an option on one more record from us. I am not going to make a record just because that’s what a record company wants. It was the right record for us, we are doing it for the artistry, love and fun of it.

Is there a story behind the name, ‘Big Dumb Rock’, for the album title?
People might look at it and think it’s a really stupid title. The title track when I demoed it was so clichéd that if it had vocals and presented as a serious song it would be so cheesy and 80’s and dated that we probably wouldn’t have done it. As an instrumental with a self mocking title it is just good fun. We are kind of laughing at ourselves, if you listen to it you think “yes that is a big dumb rock classic moment”!
There are just ten tracks on the album, some people think an album has to be 60 minutes long. All my favourite albums are 30-35 minutes long, that length they have a sense of beginning, middle and end. Listen to an album for 60 minutes and it’s like listening to the radio as you lose track of where you are. It’s easier to focus and get a feel for eight or nine songs as opposed to 16 songs, anything over 35 minutes is too long. If anyone says it’s not good value for money because there are only ten songs, well, we are not selling art by the minute and second!

What’s your take on selling a CD against downloading individual tracks?
I am so old-school, I want the album to be there in the right running order on a CD with the liner notes. I think the music industry is going off a cliff heading for disaster and I think the movie industry will follow it. Even books, the technology is in people’s hands so they can download a book rather than buying it. There’s nothing you can do about, everyone wants it for free. As long as I am playing music, I will put it out on a CD as a piece of art. Even if only 5,000 people want it I will still put it out.

Listening to your album, I could hear a lot of Michael Schenker influences.
Well, you know what? I’ll take that as a compliment! I don’t think I’ll ever be quite so famous that people would guess that it’s me; so for people to think it’s Michael Schenker is probably as good as I could hope for!

And you are supporting MSG, that must be a dream come true?
We are playing on July 18th. It’s huge for me, Michael Schenker is the reason I play guitar basically. He’s my lifelong guitar hero and we’ve been lucky enough to score the gig; it’s going to be a special occasion for me personally. It’s also going to be our CD release party and we’re not going to make it available anywhere until that night, it’ll only be available online the day after.

Apart from playing on your new album, I understand you were also involved in its production?
The production is the hardest part. When I record something, I can listen to the playback of the solo twice and say yes, that’s the take. I won’t listen to tomorrow and second guess it. When it comes to the mixes, it drives me nuts; it’s almost better to leave it to someone else because it would never be finished. There’s an expression - it’s never really done, you just have to choose the right moment to walk away.

You must be proud of the opening track ‘Viper’, which really sets the tone for the rest of the album?
‘Viper’ is an unusual song because it’s a blues song and we are not known for the blues. I was going for a Texas boogie, ZZ Top song and then I played it to Val, our drummer and he thought it sounded like the Scorpions! The first guitar solo is a genuine three piece, the first time we have done that with just guitar, bass and drums. That’s before the rhythm guitar comes in with the Hammond organ.

Along with Val Trainor who’s been with you on drums for some time, who else is in the band?
We have a brand new bass player as of two days ago. Dirk Krause [original bass player} didn’t play on ‘Straight Up’ but played a few live shows. Then in April, he dropped out before we started recording the new album because he was trying to buy a house. We had to go ahead without him. We rehearsed during April and recorded in May. He was hoping to join us for the tour but he has commitments which meant he wouldn’t have been available for the start of the tour, so he suggested we find a replacement for him. It was sad because he was the only bass player I played with for 6 years, we had a good chemistry. I thought I was the only UFO fan in San Diego before I met Dirke. We auditioned the new bass player [Barney Firks] and he nailed everything, the feel was there and he never missed a note. It’s also the debut for the keyboard player, Bruce Conners – he’s done a great job. There’s way more keyboards than on the Straight Up album. There’s a presence on all tracks – not licks and solos but as a supporting role.

I notice you played bass on the new album, something that Ritchie Blackmore and Michael Schenker have reputably done in places on their albums?
I didn’t look at it as a chore and I applied myself to it a little bit. It’s odd, you’re playing the same song but you are performing a completely different function of the song. Playing the bass gives you a different perspective of the song, it’s a lot of fun.

‘Welcome To America’ appeared to be a bigger hit than it’s follow-up Straight Up. Was that the case?
Being out on a record label, you never really know for sure how many you’ve sold for sure. The impression is that WTA got very good reviews across the board and Straight Up confused a lot of people. None of the reviewers hated it but they just didn’t get it. There were comments that said it didn’t sound like Rainbow any more, but in fact WTA didn’t sound like Rainbow, so what were they listening to? It makes you wonder because they seemed to spend more time saying what it didn’t sound like as opposed to what is did sound like. I stopped reading them after a while.

Your split with Graham Bonnet was quite sudden, how did that happen?
We had two shows booked in Russia, we’d got our visas ready, the hotels were booked, backline was all arranged, five round trips paid up LAX [Los Angeles airport] to Moscow - so quite a bit of money that the Russian promoter had paid out. Then, about four days before we were due to go, Graham called me and he just refused to go, point blank. It turned out, 24 hours later, that a rival Russian agency had contacted Graham and suggested that if he cancelled the shows, he would fly him out on his own a couple of months later and put him together with a local Russian covers bar band to back him up. So that was the reason why the shows were cancelled. The original promoter lost thousands of dollars and had put weeks into promoting the shows. We’ve heard nothing from Graham since. Life goes on.
We got a good album out of it and we got good exposure and we were glad of the opportunity but Graham was glad of the opportunity too. He thanked me a couple of times; he said that the Welcome To America album had reminded people that he was still alive. He’d had people tell him that it had put him back on the radar and we played some good shows together. He always made a point when we were on stage at these shows of thanking us and telling the audience that he thought we were a great band and it had been a privilege to be with us and a great opportunity.

So is Keith Slack still in the band if you are currently focussing on instrumentals?
Keith is not necessarily out of the band, it’s not like the old days when everyone is on the road together. Certainly if we had the opportunity to tour as a band with vocals, I would hope Keith would join us. Our preference would be to tour as a four piece, no disrespect to Keith but we would like to promote our new album.
We will play the new album in its entirety and depending on the time available we could do an hour purely with instrumentals. I find myself more connected to the music if they are instrumentals; with vocals it always feels like it is an add-on. We did about twenty shows as an instrumental band when we first started and it was a lot of fun. You don’t need to be a singer to appreciate a song so why do you need to be a guitarist to appreciate an instrumental! A lot of instrumental bands tend to make the music too esoteric but we don’t take ourselves too seriously. We take the art of our playing seriously but you don’t work music, you play music.

Where is the album release show being held?
The MSG support show is at Brick By Brick, San Diego, we played there three times, including once with Graham Bonnet. The very first gig we did with Graham, in fact, was there.
We’d like to use the support gig as a CD release party, to get the ball rolling. We’d like to build a bit of a fanbase here locally [San Diego] as we’re better known in Europe that our home town currently. Being with Escape, all of their promotional work is in Europe, so we’re going to try on building the grass roots here. We’ve also got plans to tour the UK in spring next year, hopefully as an instrumental band.

Good luck with the launch of your new album, have you any final comments on how you see music loving people will take to it?
The new album is all about making music for the love of it, the artistry and fun of it, that it’s instrumental but it’s not aimed just at musicians and that it’s not to be taken oh so seriously and pretentiously just because it doesn’t have vocals. If you like listening to records because you like the sound of the guitars and the drums and you like UFO, early Van Halen and MSG, then this is what it’s all about. Just because we don’t have vocals doesn’t mean that ordinary people can’t enjoy it. That’s the whole message behind this whole record, four people playing music just for the sheer fun and artistry of it, we’re just passionate about it.

Taz Taylor Band

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