Cuba is ninety miles from Florida. Over eleven million people live on the island but for most Americans, it has always been a place off-limits since the first embargo was imposed back in the early 1960’s. But all that is about to change as the political environment starts to shift and we may now start to see more American rock & rollers stepping ashore in the future to play their music for fans craving to see them.
A few weeks ago, the Dead Daisies became the first band to play in Cuba since President Obama announced his plans to start weakening the embargo. But what you may not know is that this wasn’t an overnight decision. They had been in talks to play there for almost a year and with the new occurrences in policy, instead of helping things along, it actually almost caused the whole deal to cease. “We had had this in the works for a year,” Dead Daisies guitar player Richard Fortus told me last week during a quick phone conversation before he left to record with the band in Australia. “And when Obama made that announcement, it almost stopped us from being able to go because they had to rewrite all the documents or the protocol for getting in. So it almost stopped us from going.”
But things worked out and the Dead Daisies – Fortus, bass player Marco Mendoza, guitarist David Lowy, keyboard player Dizzy Reed and drummer Brian Tichy; along with Rolling Stones bass player Darryl Jones and vocalists John Corabi and Bernard Fowler – spent a week recording, jamming with local musicians, playing some live shows, and meeting fans all over Havana. “We never felt unwelcome,” Fortus continued. “People were very, very friendly and very open, very welcoming. To walk down the street and people invite you into their homes. It was really amazing.”
With a full itinerary from the moment they touched down, it didn’t leave much time for exploring outside of the city. “We were writing and recording some stuff and playing with some Cuban musicians,” Fortus explained. But, “We went to the old city and around Havana.” Was the city what he imagined it to be like? “It was pretty much what I expected from the pictures and from what you read and hear; a lot of older buildings but some absolutely stunning architecture. It’s unbelievably beautiful.”
One of the most enjoyable days of their trip was spending time with students at a local music school. “We got to play with a bunch of high school/college level students and man they were just phenomenal players; absolutely phenomenal musicians at that age.” When I asked Fortus what the kids were the most curious about, his response was a little surprising: “Gear. I think they just read a lot about the gear but they don’t actually get their hands on it, you know, so to hear about stuff like that is just a fantasy for them.” They were also interested in “how to develop as musicians and our experiences of playing with different people,” continued Fortus about the students’ strong love for music. “They live it, from the time they are little kids they are being trained.”
The Daisies gave an acoustic performance, played a club gig and then an event called Cuba Rocks For Peace. “The fans were amazing, beyond my wildest expectations,” Fortus said with a hint of excitement in his voice. “I never thought it would be that crazy. This is their first taste of music they’ve been listening to and getting to be able to experience that live.”
Now with that groundbreaking milestone behind them, the Dead Daisies have settled down in Australia to record their next CD, a full-length album this time around, which they hope to release sometime in May. “This is going to be a great record,” Fortus assured me. “We’re not wasting any time. We’re going to write it and put it out because we’ve got so much being planned as far as tours. We’re going out with KISS in Europe and then we’re planning shows and tours with everybody from Def Leppard to Whitesnake to the Who. It’s going to be a big year for us. Lots of good stuff.”
So with their star continuing to rise, the Dead Daisies are even more excited about their future as a band.
Richard Fortus is also part of the new Compulsions CD, Dirty Fun, coming out on April 14th.
Photographs by Kat Benzova