Sin City Sinners: Club Madrid, Las Vegas, NV, 5/27/11

If it’s a Friday night and you have been walking around the Strip in Las Vegas all day, there is a place that is both cool and hot for your nighttime escapades. You have to drive a little bit, away from theneon lights, and head towards a blossoming mini-Vegas called Henderson. It has casinos and clubs and bings and whistles, but it’s not as overwhelmingly cheesy like the big boy city that spawned it. Nestled away inside the Santa Fe Resort there is a fun little adventure venue called Club Madrid. And if it is indeed a Friday night, then the Sin City Sinners will be holding a rock & roll court that is ten times more fun than the plastic showgirls, Cirque de Soleil and even those gorgeous musical fountains at Bellagio. If your heart beats rock & roll, then this is where you want to head out to.

The Sin City Sinners are a bunch of fun misfit rockers from all over the continent: Todd Kerns, who is currently Slash’s bass player of choice, hails from Canada, drummer Rob “Boom Boom” Cournoyer was born and bred in Louisiana, bad ass bass player Doc Ellis is from Southern California, as is former Faster Pussycat guitarist Brent Muscat. Put them together and you’ve got a band that drips rock & roll.

“The band definitely clicks and we have a really good time,” Cournoyer told me a few days after watching them play to an enthusiastic crowd. “It’s different every night. We’re a cover band but you’re not forced to play things like the record … There’s always little different things here and there and it’s always really spontaneous”. “I think Todd’s one of the greatest frontmen since David Lee Roth,” Ellis reiterated, explaining why he became a part of the Sinners ensemble. “I saw the Sinners play before I was in the band and the first time I met Todd I told him, I’m sure you’ve got a laundry list of guys but I’ll back you up any day cause I’ve waited my entire life to back up someone like him”.

With that kind of environment to play in, it is no wonder that musicians love to sit in and jam with the Sinners. If you were into the metal scene that sprang from the sperm of the LA Strip, then names like George Lynch, Mark Kendall, Jeff LaBar, Sami Yaffa and Blas Elias will definitely ring a bell. They have all taken part in the guest-star line-ups that have become a regular part of Sinners sets. Even former teen pop star Tiffany took a turn at the mike one night. “She got to sing the Ramones, she got to sing Sex Pistols and Guns N Roses and stuff like that,” said Cournoyer. “She had a great time and that’s the main reason why she came to jam with us”.

On Friday, May 27, 2011, the Sinners had another guest that by the time she had finished playing two songs, had blown the socks off every single person in the room. Introduced as a guitar prodigy and the future of rock & roll, Whitney Rosati proved her home is indeed on the lighted stage. Just barely into her teens and hailing from New York, she first caught the attention of Todd Kerns last year. In fact, she impressed all of Slash’s band, including the big man himself. “I would not have invited her on stage if I didn’t think she was absolutely capable,” Kerns told me recently. Agrees Ellis: “When she got up on stage, she sure as hell didn’t look like she was nervous. She was looking like she owned that thing”.

Absolutely killing her solos on “Welcome To The Jungle”, “Back In Black” and especially on “Sweet Child Of Mine”, this young rocking lady has the future by the balls. “I think it’s still kind of funny that people think it’s so weird that a girl can shred on guitar,” said Kerns, almost in disbelief at the ridiculousness of some people’s attitudes. “Maybe it’s sort of a novelty that a fourteen year old girl is going to get up and kick ass but to me it was like her being a fourteen year old     girl was way down the list of her being a good guitar player … It’s never been a question of like, is she good enough to do this. Yeah, she is. It’s just that simple”.

The Sinners also had another young band with them on this night. The Roxy Gunn Project opened for the Sinners with a strong female vocalist who also has a bright future ahead of her. “That girl’s rendition of Love Is A Battlefield is way too damn good for a girl that age,” praised Ellis. “Where does she get off being so damned talented!” Starting the song off acoustically on a darkened stage, you could feel the emotion slowly build until her band returned beside her and she blew the roof off.

One thing that is so great about both girls is the support they are getting from their families. “I’ve not known a family nearly as supportive as Whitney’s,” Kerns informed me. “That’s what you need if you’re going to try and make a go of it”. “I started playing in bands around South Louisiana when I was sixteen and lying about my age,” Cournoyer shared about his beginnings in rock & roll. “My mom would go to a lot of the shows, which would make it kind of legal (laughs)”. Doc Ellis also started out young: “I started playing drums when I was six or eight … I moved over to playing guitar when I was about twelve, started playing professional when I was about fifteen in bars and from there I just kind of toured around playing in cover bands for a long time”.

Granted, the Sin City Sinners do play a lot of covers but they also add in a good smattering of originals via Todd Kerns and his previous endeavors, not to mention songs from Muscat’s former band Faster Pussycat. Breaking the night down into two blazing sets, the talent of these four musicians becomes more apparent the longer they play. Songs from their last record, EXILE ON FREMONT STREET, were big hits with the crowd: “It’s Not You It’s Me”, “Numb”, “Blow Up Doll”, “Goin’ To Vegas” and “Arianna Incomplete” on which Brent Muscat slings out a funky guitar solo. With Muscat taking over the vocals for “Gimme Shelter”, they absolutely nailed it; even the backing vocals that are so predominately a part of the Stones masterpiece, Kerns was spot on fantastic.

Moving into night two of their weekend shows, the Sinners switched over to Chrome, this time without Kerns, who was flying home to Vancouver, but with the addition of former Aerosmith guitarist Jimmy Crespo and vocalist Louie Merlino, and Ellis taking over the leadership role. “For the most part, this is the only band where I haven’t been the main focus,” laughed Ellis. “I’ve had two other bands that I’ve fronted so it’s very easy for me to front. Unfortunately, I and a lot of other people don’t have Todd Kerns’ voice so when it comes down to like, if you need me to front, yeah, I can do Social Distortion, all the stuff like that all day long. I can’t sing AC/DC and Sweet Child Of Mine and stuff like that so when Todd split to go on tour the first time [with Slash], we had to hire someone who could”.

That someone was Louie Merlino. “Louie’s been around forever,” Ellis explained. “His resume is amazing. But he’s one of those guys if he goes walking down the street, you don’t know who the hell he is. But the guy sang on Michael Bolton records, Cher, Poison, Kiss … I don’t know if you know this but Louie was in the SPINAL TAP movie. He was the guy that they hired to replace Nigel”.

A few different players but the same excitement was going down at Chrome, especially with Crespo playing such amazing solos, most impressively on “Train Kept A Rollin’”, which was killer. Such an underrated guitarist, when Crespo quietly takes center stage and just rips through “Sweet Emotion”, “Rebel Yell”, “All Right Now” and “Summer Of ‘69”, you wonder where the hell this guy has been all these years. Muscat was also in shining form, playing his Faster Pussycat hit “House Of Pain” and driving home “Ah Leah” with a solo that had your hands in the air shouting praise.

Cournoyer was a drum machine, pounding out a beat that knocked songs like “The Stroke”, “Pour Some Sugar On Me” and “School’s Out” right out of the ballpark. And Ellis was on fire as his bad ass self, humping the bass while dressed in a wife-beater emblazoned with a hand stenciled “Sinner” across the chest and his hat hung low over his eyes. “He had big shoes to fill,” Kerns reminisced about when Ellis first came into the Sinners. “The first guy was beloved, loved by the people … He was replaced by a guy who was technically fantastic, so he had gained a whole lot of respect as well. So when Ellis came in it was like big shoes to fill but I swear to you within two weeks it was like no one remembered anyone except Doc Ellis”.

Whitney Rosati and Roxy Gunn made a second appearance with the Sinners, playing together on “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” and “I Love Rock & Roll”. The girls fit together so well; Roxy has some powerful vocal chords yet they in no way overwhelm any song she is performing, and that is a definite plus. And Whitney appeared much more comfortable on a stage with musicians of the Sinners professional caliber. Both girls are flying just under the rock & roll radar but should bust wide open in a matter of time.

With the Sinners in safe hands, Kerns is back out with Slash during the month of July for some European dates and then will be recording a new CD with him in the fall. “It’s like one of those weird things where we were kind of brought in as a support act to an artist and it felt very quickly like this was no longer a project. It was a band. And I think that even though it will be called Slash or Slash featuring Myles Kennedy, I feel very fortunate that I’m allowed to do what I do in that situation.”

When I asked Kerns if it was hard maintaining two separate bands, he contemplated both his and Myles Kennedy’s situations: “I can’t speak for him but I know that he was kind of in a weird position when Creed got back together and he was suddenly sort of sitting around. Obviously in a perfect world you do what you do and get on with it. I look at people like Dave Grohl or Jack White or Josh Homme from Queens Of The Stone Age and I see them doing different projects … so to me it’s like I’m kind of invigorated by new experiences, because I am a singer and a guitar player and a bass player and I fiddle around with everything else … kind of lights my fire”. Then again, “It’s not easy. It’s the same as, this is my wife and this is my girlfriend. That’s not an easy thing to work either (laughs); it usually doesn’t work. For now it is what it is and we do the best we can. Having Jimmy and Louie cover for me is an awesome thing and I’m such a huge fan of both of those guys, have such a huge respect for what they’ve done and what they do”.

So for now, it’s back to what the Sinners know how to do best, which is rock & roll, with and without Todd Kerns. “It’s a lot of fun being up there and banging on stuff as hard as you can and just having a good old time,” laughed Cournoyer. And the Sin City Sinners are certainly the epitome of a good fun rock & roll band.

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