“There’s been a riot down on Main Street tonight, they just went crazy, they set this whole town alight”.
I reckon it will be a riot when John Sykes does release some new music.
It’s been years since John Sykes started working on a new album. At this point it might never come out. I thought when Mike Portnoy was attached, and knowing how hyperactive Portnoy is, we could get an album to come out, however it never eventuated. Counterparts from his era, like George Lynch, release music on a consistent basis and go on the road, playing clubs. Jake E.Lee has started to do the same thing.
“Blue Murder” was the album that was supposed to break John Sykes as a standalone artist. It didn’t.
Here’s the story.
John Sykes was placed on a Geffen deal as soon as he was fired from Whitesnake. Geffen by the start of 1987 was not a power player in hard rock circles. However, during 1987, three significant releases changed that. The self-titled Whitesnake 1987 album, “Permanent Vacation” from Aerosmith and “Appetite For Destruction” from Guns N Roses. Suddenly the label was the one that mattered. It was the label to be on.
Blue Murder started off with John Sykes. It was his record deal. Ray Gillen came in on vocals early on and Cozy Powell was on drums. Ray Gillen left or according to Kalodner was told to go, and Tony Martin was brought in. Ray Gillen would of course go on to join Badlands, while Tony Martin would hedge his bets with both Black Sabbath and John Sykes. As ever, it would come down to money and a new record deal for Iommi and Black Sabbath would ensure that Martin remained there. “Valley Of The Kings” would be the only remnant of the Martin collaboration. Powell departed to join Black Sabbath as well, and Carmine Appice and Tony Franklin came in. More hired guns that John Sykes had to pay from his monies.
After three years in development hell and production delays, by 1989, Blue Murder releases their debut album. But Geffen Records was a different beast in 1989 than it was in 1986. It was the label to be on if you had the commercial runs on the board. They had more successful acts to support and market than before.
The following albums also came out in 1989 via Geffen Records. Blue Murder and John Sykes needed to compete with these artists for marketing dollars.
- “Slip Of The Tongue” (RIAA: 1 million plus sales) also came out and the album was originally withheld by Coverdale, while Geffen supported and marketed the Blue Murder album.
- “Pump” (RIAA: 7 million plus sales) from Aerosmith also came out.
- “The Great Radio Controversy” (RIAA: 2 million plus sales) from Tesla was also released.
- “The End Of Innocence” (RIAA: 6 million plus sales) from Don Henley also came out.
- “Heart Of Stone” with the big hit “If I Can Turn Back Time” (RIAA: 3 million plus sales) from Cher also came out.
In addition, Blue Murder and John Sykes, needed to compete with albums released on other labels, plus massive albums from 1986, 1987 and 1988 that still sold a monza. Hard Rock became a commercial product and image was important.
Then there was the stupid image of Blue Murder. Seriously, what weed was John Kalodner and Geffen Records smoking when they decided that the pirate/buccaneer look was the right look for a band called Blue Murder. In an era of MTV, it was a ridiculous move.
Maybe it was the historical and mythical lyrics from “Valley Of The Kings” and “Ptolemy” that just didn’t resonate with a wider audience. To me, John Sykes is one of my favourite guitarists, and his work on those two songs can only be described as monstrous.
Regardless, the late Eighties was the era of the hot-shot guitarist and John Sykes was a hot-shot guitarist. But the album didn’t keep the sales numbers clicking over and after six months it was all over.
Maybe David Coverdale was to blame.
Maybe Geffen didn’t give the record the correct marketing budget compared to other acts.
In the end, it was an expensive exercise for Geffen Records, who kept John Sykes and the project in development and production for three years.
By 1993, (yep, 4 years later) when “Nothin’ But Trouble” came out on Geffen, it was already over. The vocalist hired at the time was Kelly Keeling, however apart from “I’m On Fire”, all of the other songs got redone with Sykes doing lead vocals again. Their final album on Geffen, was a live recording called “Screaming Blue Murder” and it was only released in Japan. Of course, once iTunes came out many years later, it was made available worldwide.
It’s all about people.
One of the reasons why new Sykes music has been delayed is the team to push the new album has to be invested in the project. By 1989, Geffen was a money-making machine. That is all that mattered, making money. Relationships between label and artists, didn’t happen, unless you happened to be Aerosmith or Guns N’Roses or you had a management team that shook the foundations.
Because how many times have you heard; to be successful, it starts with great music. In Blue Murder, we have great music, but even back in 1989, there was so much noise, it was hard to break through the clutter. And an artist succeeds on momentum. One success leads to another. When an artist has been out of the public conversation for so long, is the fan base of John Sykes still interested to invest in purchasing his new music, when it comes out?
“It was built by flesh and blood”
To close off with a lyric from “Valley of The Kings”. While the lyric talks about the building of the pyramids, you can use it right now about life. All of our careers are built on flesh and blood. And the value that we attach to our careers is not the same value that someone else attaches. And that in essence is the music business. The same value a musician attaches to their music is not the same as another persons value.