Before 2013 goes out with a bang via a big, fun, no-holding-back interview, I decided to spend our column this week taking a moment to reflect back on MY ROOTS this year. With 54 musicians interviewed, this column has been steadily evolving since it’s inception in late 2011 from a fun, simple, jump back in time with some of our favorite rockers to digging deeper into those early roots that have shaped them as well as diving more in depth about current musical projects. We have coaxed more fun stories out of them, conjured up some wonderful old memories, found out what it takes to make solos soar, what still excites them about playing music, how their recording in the modern world has changed since their first times in a studio, and everything else in between. It’s been an honor to host this column and 2014 is already looking bigger and brighter, as more and more musicians have taken an interest in joining in on our rock & roll party.
The focus of MY ROOTS has always been to spotlight individual musicians; getting to know them better, their history and their interests, how they came to be who they are today, both as performers and human beings. From legends (Robin Trower, Carmine Appice and Lou Gramm) to youngsters who are just starting to make a name for themselves (Jared James Nichols and Dave Shaw); from metal monsters (Doug Aldrich and Black Veil Brides) to prog maestros (Steve Hackett and Jordan Rudess); up and coming progenies in country (Shooter Jennings), rock (Devon Allman) and singer songwriting (Harper Simon); and guitar players (Joe Satriani & Steve Hunter), bass players (Jeff Pilson & Rudy Sarzo), drummers (Scott Phillips & Brent Fitz), keyboardists (Steve Nieve & Dizzy Reed), vocalists (Sass Jordan & Ian Astbury) and even horn players (Jay Collins) – we have covered them all. Just think who will join us in 2014. Exciting.
So as we get ready to celebrate the holiday season this week, I give you some memorable quotes from some very memorable people.
People ask me, “Oh, how come you didn’t really go overboard with drugs and alcohol when you were playing with Ozzy?” It was simple: Just watch him and say, “I want to be like that.” (laughs) Like you would show up in the afternoon and he had got this god awful tattoo. Remember, this was thirty years ago and not everybody had tattoos. Now it’s like pretty normal but back then it was like, “Wow, what are you doing to yourself?” He kind of pioneered all that, having all these tattoos, and they were of all these like monsters coming out of his chest and I’d go, “Where’d you get that?” And he says, “Oh, I don’t remember. I got drunk and I woke up and now I have this thing on my chest.” (laughs) It was like, alright, mental note: do not get drunk with Ozzy cause you don’t want to wake up with one of these awful things on your chest (laughs). But, it was fun. No matter what it was, it was fun. It was a lot of fun. Nobody got seriously hurt.
Well, I used to have to wear a fake moustache and lie about my age before I joined the Starship and I was playing in nightclubs and stuff at the age of fourteen. And sometimes it would fall off in my drink and I’d see this hairy caterpillar looking thing in the ice cubes and it’d kind of freak me out. “What the heck is that?” And then I’d realize, “Oh, it’s my moustache,” and I’d have to go and glue it back on. But then I actually grew a real one for a long time. I don’t miss it that much.
I don’t know (laughs). That I’m nice.
Why would you know who the hell I am,” Copely said with a big laugh as I told him of my quest to learn more about him. “There’s a lot more successful people than I am. But I, and every musician, really appreciate people even being interested in what we’re all doing because it’s hard, you know.”
Well, I always wanted to be a blues player. Although I loved it, I don’t think I was particularly good at it. And at the same time I started to get interested in a number of other genres. I’d be listening to Bach and blues and I thought the twain would never meet. You either did one or the other. You were either Segovia or Hendrix. Then bands started to appear on the scene that had obviously listened to both and there was this movement, this crossover movement, that people were doing naturally what would today be called Fusion or Progressive. But it was people who had wide tastes who were taking a different approach. They might not have been able to name it as such or articulate their feelings perhaps but they wanted to borrow from a number of different sources.
I got a horn stolen from me maybe about two years or a year and a half after I moved to New York. My main saxophone got stolen when I was playing on a gig in New York City. I’d gone outside and we had left our equipment in the place we were playing and went outside to have a smoke and came back in and my horn was gone. Somebody had snuck it out the back door. That was the time when I almost felt like giving up and going back home. But a friend of mine, another saxophone player, let me borrow an extra one he had for a while and then I just built up some money and got myself a cheaper horn than the one I had but I got one. I played that for a while until I had enough money to get the same kind of horn I had that got stolen from me.
The fact that drum solos actually start in the first place, is a problem. Cause most drum solos are boring and most people go to the bar or go to the loo, the toilet or the bathroom as you call it, or they go and buy t-shirts. Most drum solos are really boring and some people have to put themselves in a cage and spin themselves upside down and do all matter of tricks. You know, I’ve spun around in circles myself and I know what that’s all about. Basically, a drum solo is very, very hard to get across to the person that is not a drummer. So to get the point across, to make it interesting and to keep their attention, it needs to be visually entertaining. Whether it be in a big way, by revolving, or whether it be in a small way, like playing underneath cymbals or juggling sticks or whatever it might be, it has to be entertaining. And there’s very few instruments that you can have as much visual contact with the audience as drums. Drums are incredibly visual.
I got paid for my first gig when I was nine. I played in a band with some older guys. We played a birthday party and made two bucks, as my first professional gig. It was 1965, maybe, 1966. A couple of years after The Beatles hit. And here I am in a band with Ringo now, how bizarre is that … Back then, that was like a lot of money for a nine year old kid. I probably spent it on candy and bullshit, as one would. You know, it was all very innocent and stuff, but that was the first time the applause kind of hit. The girls were screaming like they did on Tv and it was like, wow. It wasn’t a sexual awakening cause I was too young but it was like, wow, I love this feeling of playing music through an amplifier and people react to it. I could play pretty good for a kid, you know. And now everybody has a band, everybody makes a record. It’s almost like cliché. Back then it was a little weird to have a young guy that could play. It all started there and I never looked back and here I am, four days before the apocalypse.
Well, he was always just like, “Be yourself.” His thing was, don’t try to fit into anything. And I think that always stayed with me and something I’m still learning but it’s just being true to yourself and caring about what you do. Literally, there is the line in “The Low Road” that don’t try to be one of the boys cause you’re never going to be one, you know. So I guess I didn’t learn that lesson immediately but I did over time.
(laughs) You know, all the players that we’ve had have been really good musicians and they know how to listen and I think that’s what it is. If musicians understand that they have to keep their ears open and stay out of somebody’s way when they’re going to do something, that’s going to be good. Now, obviously, we go over these things. I’m the band leader so I tell people, “Look, this is how it’s going to work. We’re going to do the song like this and then you’re going to play and you’re going to play and you’re going to play.” Everybody pretty much has to step up to the plate and be professional at that point so that’s what really saves it from just descending into chaos (laughs). But that’s a great question.
This guy had an ad in the paper that said, “Paint metal barrels to look like wood.” We were like, “What? That’s weird. But ok.” So we go out and the guy’s got like five barrels or something like that and he’s like this crazy old codger who had like a gypsy wagon and llamas that pulled it (laughs). And he didn’t have any teeth and every time he talked all this tobacco would spray all over and we couldn’t understand anything he’d say. So we painted the first barrel and we’re out in the Arizona sun and it’s really hot but we’re used to it cause we were long distance runners at the time, we ran cross country and the mile and whatever. So we were used to being out, but still we were out in the hot sun painting a metal barrel. The first barrel was a masterpiece. It really did look like wood. But then after that, each one didn’t look quite as good as the one before it (laughs). So finally we just dissolved the company (laughs).
It was obviously very exciting for me. It was a big time for the band. Adrenalize had just been released and gone to number one here and in England and many countries around the world. There was a lot of press, there was a lot of excitement about the band and about the record. It was high times. I didn’t feel nervous but I felt real comfortable; I’ve always felt very comfortable being in Def Leppard and the guys in the band have always made me feel that way. It wasn’t something that I came to lightly or that they decided upon lightly. We had a long courtship of a couple of months to make sure the situation was going to work long term. You know, being in a couple other bands, and I’d been fired from a couple of other bands, I had a bit of a reputation as being difficult to work with. I don’t believe the reputation was warranted but regardless, it was one I had in the industry. But Joe Elliott knew me personally cause Joe was a resident in Dublin then still. I’m from Ireland and we had a lot of mutual friends so I knew Joe socially and it was his idea to bring me into the band and he vouched for me with the rest of the guys. He said, “Guys, he’s not like the person you think he is. He’s not the guy who goes from one band to another to another, and this would work out.”
Yeah, I did. I went to libraries a lot to write. I just like getting out. I don’t have an office or anything so I just kind of liked going somewhere to write, like out of my house. I don’t have a rehearsal space, and I wouldn’t want to write there anyway, but there is something nice about going to the library where everyone is working and I just like libraries. It’s quiet and I can focus and there are lots of reference books and I could sort of be imaginative in there and kind of follow my instincts and have a chunk of time just devoted to writing and editing words. I just got in the habit of doing it and I enjoyed it so I stuck with it.
Well, I just got one yesterday (laughs). But no. I fought too hard to get it in the first place. My old man used to cut my hair when I was a kid. He would set us down every Saturday morning, every other Saturday morning, and took the hair clippers and he had one attachment he put on and then he’d just buzz your head (laughs). That’s when we were kids. So when I started getting involved in music and The Beatles came out and they had long hair and everybody was trying to grow their hair, I had to fight with my old man. I swore then, I said, I’m going to have long hair the rest of my life (laughs). And I’m going to do it, by golly.
My earliest memory of music is first grade in music class and the teacher showed a video of Elvis Presley. I was addicted from the moment I saw it; like, I wanted to be Elvis. Dyed my hair black, started wearing leather pants and leather jacket and yeah, Elvis Presley was the first time I realized I wanted to be a musician.
I’m not exaggerating, there was a girl behind me through the whole show that did nothing but pull my hair and beat me over the head with a program screaming “Paul, Paul” the whole time. And I’m like, “I’m not Paul” (laughs) but she didn’t care. It was life-changing, you know, mind altering.
My head is kind of spinning and I just lost my mind (laughs). You know, it’s not very often that somebody brings a guitar and just gives it to you. It’s so cool. That is the quickest way to a guitar player’s heart is to give him a piece of gear.
Everything. You read all about it, the rush that you get live. I mean, for me to do a live show and hear kids singing your words is the biggest reward. They’ll sing, they know every word. If you make a mistake, they know it (laughs). They know every word and that’s like so killer to me. And the other thing is, hearing other bands do their versions of a song you wrote is very rewarding. There’s a lot of stuff that you really don’t get out of any other kind of job, you know. That’s what I really like.
You know, when we were kids, I think I was more worried about dressing up like a Civil War soldier (laughs). I was so hugely into the Civil War and the history and stuff. I actually had my mother make me a Civil War uniform, a Union uniform, and I wore it all the time. I would wear it to school. I even wore my Civil War hat to baseball practice (laughs) which is ridiculous.
That I don’t really know much about music (laughs). Stanley is by far the deepest musician that I’ve played with. He really knows every aspect of music and when he plays the upright bass, there’s just nothing like it. I remember going to a show and he was playing at the Hollywood Bowl and he did a solo on the upright bass and it was unbelievable how someone can get on stage with an instrument like that, which is really difficult to play in the first place, and just totally blow you away. I’ve learned a lot from him, his approach to music and harmony and all that sort of stuff.
A self-belief, I think, that we could do something. When I think back, we were pretty arrogant (laughs). Not big-headed but we were determined that we would become the world’s best musicians. It took nine years, I guess, of being, well, you know, it’s 98% rejection in this business and you have to keep going, and to keep going you have to believe that you have something. It wasn’t the money.
Whenever I hear his music I’m instantly good. It’s like instant spiritual medicine.
Most of them are so fucking useless. They have songs that you can’t even remember. Not like when we had songs. I don’t know how old you are but in my day, you know, starting from the 60’s up, there were so many great songs; all the Motown songs and Atlantic Records songs; Aretha Franklin and Otis Redding. There isn’t any of that anymore. It used to be where you’re driving along and you hear music on the radio and you had new artists that were creative and really cool and identifiable. You heard bands like the Rolling Stones and you knew when the Rolling Stones came on, you could identify them. You knew when Pink Floyd came on, you knew when Led Zeppelin came on, and Vanilla Fudge, Rod Stewart. Now, these people come on Top 40 and they all sound the same. You don’t know who is who. And they don’t identify anybody either on the radio (laughs). Even if it’s something you liked, you don’t know who it is because they never identify it. I don’t understand how these groups get big today.
No question about it. One of the best drummers on the planet. He doesn’t have a really big high-profile name but he’s an amazing drummer. He played some of the most amazing drum stuff I’ve ever heard, on that Berlin album [Lou Reed]. Just amazing.
Oh we had it down. We were able to get that hair up real quick (laughs)
First albums are great because you’re not famous yet. They were just a club band and I was a studio musician who was working in the studio where they were working. They weren’t trying to make a hit album, they were just trying to make an album. They were excited they were actually in a big studio making a real album. No one had any dreams of selling four million copies and it being a big influential record. We just wanted to make a good record. As artists, you want to do good work. No one was thinking about having a hit record at all. There’s a certain innocence to that record which is charming because no one was famous yet. We were just young kids trying to do something good.
It’s just the way I am to be kind of really open about my perceptions on things, knowing that I very well may make some people upset or have people go, “You shouldn’t be saying that. You should keep that to yourself. That’s private.” Blah-blah-blah. And I’ve always kind of taken shit for that anyway, so musically it’s not going to change.
There is always that moment where suddenly you have that nature call. That can be very, very nerve-wracking; especially on a big stage like with Guns N Roses. You can’t really just excuse yourself. So that can get pretty nerve-wracking. I have lots of stories like that but that’s the biggest issue I have, as far as wracking of the nerves. Like, we were in India not too long ago and had some delicious Indian food, cause we were in India, and it was fantastic. But it didn’t sit well with me and I’m looking around like, “I have got to get to a bathroom and I have to get to a bathroom NOW.” In fact, we were going on stage, like, Oh my God. So all there was was like a port-o-potty in India, which is not the cleanest place in the world. The people are great, beautiful place, but not the cleanest place. So that was probably not only the most nerve-wracking, cause I could hear the intro music playing, but we were going to be on in like two minutes and I was not feeling well. But I made it on stage and it was a great show.
I don’t know, I want to look out for people I care about at a certain point but no, I kind of feel like if you know me, you best be on your best behavior because it might turn up in a song sometime (laughs). Look out.
There’re plenty of people who are happy to turn up at dinner, get their picture taken, put their arm around a dignitary. Some people get even deeper. They’ll throw a benefit or whatever. Get even deeper and go to regions and explore and have some experience in an environment. I don’t see how you can continue that once you’ve had an experience. I’m not interested in the photo opportunity. There is no value in that to me. I don’t want any awards or money. I’ll be of service if I can. I can’t always be of service. Sometimes I’m a total asshole. I’m exhausted, you know, get the fuck out (laughs). I’m exhausted, I ain’t got nothing for you. I’m working on that, definitely working on that. I’m just a person. Just a dude who loves people, loves music. I love everybody. I’m not really in opposition to anybody. I mean, there’s definitely individuals on this planet that need curbing in some way but ultimately I believe in the power of art, I believe in the power of enlightened perspective, really getting in touch with what this is. So I’ll immerse myself in that material. If people want to come along for the ride, great, cause I’m also a part of the ride. I’m looking to others. I’m in this just like everybody else. I’m looking at Terence McKenna, I’m looking at Timothy Leary, looking at Pema Chodron, looking at the Dalai Lama, looking at the great enlightened writers, enlightened filmmakers.
The Conspirators (Todd Kerns/Brent Fitz/Frankie Sidoris) on what they thought Slash was doing at that very moment:
Todd: Playing guitar; Frank: Playing guitar, I guarantee it; Brent: Yeah, absolutely.
That is a really, really good question. Let me see. Well, in the 70’s I met, just meeting, like shaking hands, the guy from Three Dog Night. Growing up, Three Dog Night was like pretty big. Then I started hanging out at the Rainbow in LA, things like that, and I got to meet quite a few because they were all just hanging there. It’s not somebody that I befriended but was kind of like rubbing elbows with. I’d meet anybody from the guys with The Who or Led Zeppelin. But I would say that the biggest one, the first big, big, big one that I ever met was Ringo. Frankie Banalli, when we first got to LA, we were staying at Ringo’s house. He was out of town filming a movie and his assistant let us stay there because she was by herself here in the Hollywood Hills and it was better to have company. Because, and this is an important fact, the Manson family used to stalk Ringo and at night we would see their van parked above where the house was. It was in the Hollywood Hills so the house was below a hillside, and you could see their van. Sometimes you could hear them running on the roof of the house. It was a little scary but we were basically there to be some sort of protection, I guess.
One day we actually helped Ringo move out of that house to another house that he bought. So we met him. He is an incredibly charming, lovely man. He gave Frankie and me $20 bill and we thought, we’re going to save this for the rest of our lives. This is going to be a lucky $20 bill from Ringo (laughs). So that night we went to the Rainbow and we just drank and had a pizza. That’s what we spent it on (laughs).