A to Z of Making It, Music, My Stories, Unsung Heroes

Class of 1989

Another trip down memory lane via my Hot Metal magazines. This is issue 6 from 1989. Lets look at the bands/artists mentioned:

Doro Pesch
Remember “All We Are” from Warlock. Even though Doro has released a shit load of records under the “Doro” name, none have come close to “All We Are”.  One YouTube channel has 3,428,785 views for the song “All We Are”. It was anthemic and energetic.

Dee Snider
Dee Snider’s new band Desperados had just signed a recording deal with Elektra Records and the article mentioned that they will start recording their debut album shortly.

We all know how that turned out. Elektra Records became Neglektra Records. The project is almost forgotten, except for Dee Snider who always resurrects a song or two or three from those sessions.

The Widowmaker debut album had a few and his solo album “Never Let The Bastards Wear You Down” also had a few. His new anthology will also contain a few songs.

Quiet Riot
Strong rumours circulated that the band had split up and that Frankie Banali had become a permanent member of W.A.S.P while vocalist Paul Shortino had been offered a solo record deal.

How funny that the vocalist who came in towards the end of Quiet Riot’s fame gets a solo deal. Seriously what song has Shortino written that has stuck around for the last 25 years.

Go on YouTube and type in Paul Shortino or Rough Cutt.

Forgotten, because no one cared.

Rough Cutt was just a band that had okay musicians and those okay musicians acted as a backing band for the better musicians like Jake E.Lee, Craig Goldy and Claude Schnell to launch careers. If Chris Hager was really a great songwriter he would have remained in RATT.

Whitesnake
The new Whitesnake album was finished and the press release said it was tentatively titled “Slip Of The Tongue” and the band had also re-recorded two old Whitesnake tunes in “Fool For Your Lovin” and “We Wish You Well”. The album was set for an August release, however it wouldn’t come out until November of that year.

We all know that the album was held back by David Coverdale as a threat to Geffen to stop the promotional push on the Blue Murder album. “Slip Of The Tongue” went on to sell over a million copies while Blue Murder’s self-titled debut got killed off.

David Lee Roth
Was recording his third album with producer Keith Olsen who just finished the Whitesnake, “Slip Of The Tongue” album. The band had new guitarist Rocket Ritchotte who replaced Steve Vai.

The album that would eventually become “A Little Ain’t Enough” came out in January 1991 (almost two years later), and the producer ended up being Bob Rock and the guitarists ended up being Jason Becker and Steven Hunter, however Rocket Ritchotte does have a few songwriting credits. Goes to show how quickly things can change in the music business.

And lets not forget Jason Becker and his diagnosis with Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

In the end the album is forgotten. The title track lead single has about 420,000 YouTube views, which pales compared to “Yankee Rose” and “Just Like Paradise”. Hell, it even pales to Warlock’s “All We Are”.

Black Sabbath
They issued a press release calling off their U.S tour because guitarist Tony Iommi had fallen ill. The band at the time consisted of Tony Martin on vocals, Cozy Powell on drums and Geoff Nicholls on keyboards. The illness came at a time when the band was enjoying a revival of interest following the release of their critically acclaimed album, “The Headless Cross”.

But the truth was so much different. Sales in the US/Canada were low as the record wasn’t available in the shops to buy. Iommi more or less said the same in a Black Sabbath fanzine called Southern Cross, which is also up on Wikipedia for all to read.

Blue Murder
Weeks after the release of their self titled debut, the album was enjoying a decent run on the charts. We all know that this promotion push from Geffen would be pulled because of a certain David Coverdale withholding the “Slip Of The Tongue” album. And with that went the mainstream career of John Sykes.

Britny Fox/Faster Pussycat
Both bands began work on their follow-up albums. “Boys In Heat” and “Wake Me When It’s Over” are the albums respectively. Britny Fox and CBS didn’t go over too well with audiences, while Faster Pussycat continued their Gold run with Elektra. However by 1992, both bands were at the crossroads.

Both bands don’t even have the stats that “All We Are” from Warlock has.

Junkyard
The Hot Metal magazine loved their no bullshit rock n roll. The band at the time was a success story in work ethics. All the magazines wrote about their story to the “big time” and in all of their interviews all they wanted to do was be successful enough so that they can do more follow-up records to the debut.

In the end they came at the tail end of a glam rock movement which unfortunately they got lumped into and when that movement committed hara-kiri, the career of Junkyard was collateral damage. Their major label career also forgotten. The stats on YouTube tell the story.

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A to Z of Making It, Classic Songs to Be Discovered, Derivative Works, Influenced, Music, My Stories, Unsung Heroes

Hey Stoopid

Once upon a time we purchased albums based on recommendations by the rock press. Otherwise we had no idea what they sounded like until we broke the shrink-wrap and dropped the needle. Oftentimes we were surprised. For the “Hey Stoopid” album, I bought the album based on my expectations of what Alice Cooper would do after “Trash”.

Alice Copper had a string of hit albums in the Seventies. Towards the end of the decade and in the early Eighties his output was of a poor standard. Then he started to gain some momentum with two very underrated releases in “Constrictor” and “Raise Your Fist and Yell” which set him up for the massive mainstream comeback with “Trash” in 1989 and it’s hit single “Poison”. For the dummies, “Trash” was his Eighteenth studio album. Yep, Alice’s career at that point in time was eighteen albums deep.

So when it came time to record the follow-up to “Trash” another star-studded cast was assembled.

In the record label controlled era, the label wanted to achieve the same sales as the “Trash” album or more. Anything else would be deemed a failure. So a lot of cash was thrown at every body. Advance payments got paid to the songwriters, producers and engineers upfront in exchange for any future royalties earned from the album.

The whole album is like the “Super Session” formula conceived by Al Kooper. Back in 1968, Al Kooper got guitarists Mike Bloomfield and Stephen Still to play on Side One and Two respectively of a record and all they did was cover songs. Imagine that formula today. Put someone like Zakk Wylde in a room with Jared Leto and let them hash out a few covers. Then get someone like Billy Howerdel and Justin Timberlake to hash out a few more.

The Alice Cooper “Hey Stoopid” experiment takes it to a different level in every department.

The Song Writing Club

Alice Cooper is the main lyrical force. However he is not alone. Check out the list of songwriter partners.

Bob Pfeifer was an executive at Epic Records who signed Cooper to the label plus a former musician.

Jack Ponti has a long story in the music business. Originally a guitarist and his origins go back to the late seventies/early eighties New Jersey club band called “The Rest” that also had a young Jon Bon Jovi in it. The band ended up scraping enough cash to get Billy Squier involved and in the end he did nothing to push the band. Eventually the members went their separate ways.

A song that Ponti and Jovi wrote called “Shot Through The Heart” ended up on the Bon Jovi debut album released in 1984, as well as Surgin’s debut album “When Midnight Comes” released in 1985. Of course Surgin was the next band that Ponti became involved in.

Vic Pepe is another songwriter. Actually, Ponti and Pepe are the two guys that went back and did their homework on the early Alice stuff especially “Killer” and “Love It To Death” era Alice.

Lance Bulen and Kelly Keeling from the band Baton Rouge (who of course had Jack Ponti and Vic Pepe as songwriters) make an appearance as songwriters. At this point in time, Baton Rogue had two commercially disappointing albums, however the song writing team of Ponti, Pepe, Bulen and Keeling became formidable enough to lend their talents to Alice Cooper and Bonfire.

The super talented guitarist Al Pitrelli writes one song. What a music business story Al has.

Dick Wagner was back. Yep, the same Dick Wagner that co-wrote “Only Women Bleed” with Cooper back in the mid Seventies for the “Welcome to My Nightmare”.

Zodiac Mindwarp, Ian Richardson and Nick Coler lent their talents to “Feed My Frankenstein”.

Mick Mars and Nikki Sixx from Motley Crue co-write a song and also contributed their talents on a few other songs.

Jim Vallance from Bryan Adams and Aerosmith fame is on hand to lend a hand.

Of course, the person that orchestrated the “Tras”h comeback, Desmond Child also makes an appearance.

The Producer

Peter Collins is on hand to produce having recently worked with Saraya, and notably, Rush and Queensryche. This time around, Alice Cooper wanted a sonic producer. On previous albums he wanted producers who were also song masters, somebody who could tell Alice what worked and what didn’t. That is why Bob Ezrin fit in perfectly with Alice Cooper.

“Hey Stoopid”

It’s written by Alice Cooper, Vic Pepe, Jack Ponti and Bob Pfeifer. Slash and Ozzy Osbourne make an appearance. Hard to believe that the song got no traction. Even today, on YouTube has the song at 482,974 views. Which is nothing in the grand scheme of things. On Spotify, it has a better 1,114,461 streams.

Cooper was inspired to write “Hey Stoopid” from reading sporadic mail from fans that all started to have a similar sounding theme. The title track is an anthem in the same way that ‘School’s Out’ or ‘Elected’ are and it should be heralded as such by Alice’s new generation of fans.

“Love’s a Loaded Gun”

It’s written by Alice Cooper, Vic Pepe and Jack Ponti. It’s got that “I’m Eighteen” feel and on YouTube has it at 2,268,116 views.

“Snakebite”

The sound of the rattlesnake sets the tone for the sleazy lyrics and melodies to come. It’s written by Alice Cooper, Vic Pepe, Jack Ponti, Bob Pfeifer, Lance Bulen and Kelly Keeling from the band Baton Rogue.

“Burning Our Bed”

It’s written by Alice Cooper, Al Pitrelli, Bob Pfeifer and Steve West. Joe Satriani makes an appearance.

“Dangerous Tonight”

It is an Alice Cooper and Desmond Child composition but this time is sleazy and dirty.

“Might as Well Be on Mars”

It’s written by Alice Cooper, Dick Wagner and Desmond Child. Of course it’s got that “Only Women Bleed” inspired guitar line.

“Feed My Frankenstein”

It’s written by Alice Cooper, Zodiac Mindwarp, Ian Richardson and Nick Coler.

Joe Satriani and Steve Vai communicate musically with each other throughout the song. Nikki Sixx lays down a bass groove and Elvira, Mistress of the Dark adds her sultry voice to proceedings.

“Hurricane Years”

It’s written by Alice Cooper, Vic Pepe, Jack Ponti and Bob Pfeifer. Guitarist virtuoso Vinnie Moore makes an appearance. ‘Hurricane Years’ rips off the ‘Teenage Frankenstein’ riff but it is still a powerful track in its own right,

“Little by Little”

It’s written by Alice Cooper, Vic Pepe, Jack Ponti and Bob Pfeifer. Joe Satriani is back adding his magic.

“Die for You”

It’s written by Alice Cooper, Mick Mars, Nikki Sixx and Jim Vallance. Mick Mars makes an appearance on the song.

“Dirty Dreams”

It’s written by Alice Cooper, Bob Pfeifer and Jim Vallance. Vinnie Moore adds his talents to the song again. It’s classic sleaze ridden Alice.

“Wind-Up Toy”

It’s written by Alilce Cooper, Vic Pepe, Jack Ponti and Bob Pfeifer. “Hey Stoopid”, “Feed My Frankenstein” and “Loves A Loaded Gun” got the most airplay. But they were not the best tracks on the album. It’s this song. It’s a classic and equally as good as its predecessor in “Steven”. I remember one reviewer describing it as a haunting carousel ride.

“It Rained All Night”

It was a Japanese Release Bonus Track and it’s written by Alilce Cooper and Desmond Child. The first time I heard this track was today.

Alice Cooper had about fifty songs written for this record. Songs were written with the guys from Skid Row that didn’t even make it onto the album.

Then you look at the who’s who roster of quality musicians that also played on the album.

Stef Burns did most of the guitar tracks.

Hugh McDonald played bass. I believe it was his last studio gig before becoming Bon Jovi’s payroll bass player.

Mickey Curry is on drums who came from Bryan Adams and played with “The Cult”.

John Webster is on keyboards and he is part of that Bob Rock and Bruce Fairbairn crew.

Then you look at the calibre of musicians that made up his touring band.

Eric Singer was on drums. Of course he would go to become Kiss’s mainstay drummer

Derek Sherinian was on keyboards. Of course he would go on to join Dream Theater and eventually move on to a solo career.

Stef Burns from Y&T and Shrapnel guitar virtuoso Vinnie Moore stepped up as the touring guitarists.

Greg Smith, Vinnie Moore’s bass player became the new bassist.

Alice Cooper was one of the biggest rock stars of his day. Today the youth of the world might find that hard to believe, however his output and constant musical rebirths have just added to his legend.

Listen to it and re-evaluate.

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A to Z of Making It, Classic Songs to Be Discovered, Influenced, Music, My Stories

Vito Bratta: A Rock N Roll Technician That Got Lost In All The Noise

Vito Bratta is one of the most searched artists on the internet, especially around what he is doing right now. Like me, thousands of other people that visit this blog, can’t believe that a talent like Vito, just walked away from it all.

In order to understand why Vito Bratta walked away from it all and stopped writing music, I went back into the past and I started re-reading a lot of the interviews I have from him.

THE STATE OF SONGWRITING

In a “Guitar World” interview from July 1991, Vito had the following to say on the state of his guitar playing vs. song writing.

“A weird thing happened to me this year I started thinking less in terms of guitar and more about song writing. I’ve never been the kind of player to showboat, but more and more I’ve been concerning myself with structuring and orchestrating.

On the last record, everyone commented on my playing, but hardly anyone said anything about the songs. That really bothered me. This year people have been saying. “Man, that song killed me.” which I prefer. When I heard the last Van Halen record, my comment was. “It’s not Eddie any more, but the songs sure are great.” That’s the way it should be.”

Vito thought he needed to change to accommodate the expectations of the fans and the label. In the end, the fans didn’t want him to change. We loved him exactly as he was. His guitar playing made the songs.

So Vito changes the way he thinks around songwriting. The results don’t generate into sales. In 1991, success in the music business was relative to the sales of the record. The confidence and the self-doubt that comes with disappointment is enough to kill a career.

Brad Tolinski, the person who was conducting the interview mentioned to Vito that it seemed that he made a conscious effort to play differently on “Mane Attraction” and that there are less broken arpeggios and other styling’s that Vito is renowned for.

Vito answered that with the following words;

“I don’t play like myself on this record. My sound is much heavier. For example, the lead break on “The Warsong” marks one of the first times I really explored what I call those “Zakk Wylde Pentatonic’s” and “Ace Frehley Bends”. It was just a mood I was in. While on tour with Ozzy last year, we started feeling like we weren’t the hard rock band that we used to be. On this record I just wanted to rock out.”

Remember back in 2007, when Vito appeared on the Eddie Trunk show. One of the comments he made on that show, was that he realised during the “Big Game” tour, that White Lion need heavier songs that worked more in a live setting. So instead of having a mindset about writing songs, Vito now has a mindset that he needs to write better songs, heavier songs, rockier songs and songs that work in the live show.

Vito’s whole thought process is now putting unwanted pressure on the song writing process, which to me should be natural and not forced.

In the “Guitar World” interview from July 1991, Vito also said the same when Brad Tolinski mentioned, that he could understand why Vito is frustrated as the tonal subtleties of his best work, like the solos in “Wait” and “Little Fighter,” tend to get lost in an arena.

Vito responded with the following; “Yeah, I agree. But I think “The Warsong” will kick ass in any situation. The real subtle tasty stuff seems to get lost outside the studio, and that’s a real problem.”

This is an important distinction to make between bands that have gone through the stratosphere and bands that stagnated.

On the Justice tour, it was noted that Metallica fans were seen yawning during the longer complex songs from the Justice album. So what did Metallica do next? They released the monster known as the “Black” album. Shorter songs, less complex and songs that rocked hard.

All the Classic Rock bands used to perform their songs live before they recorded them. That is why all of those albums from the Seventies had songs that rocked hard in the studio and in the live arena. In the end a musician’s level of success depends on their ability to entertain. It is never about their level of technical proficiency. Bands like Kiss, Motley Crue, Metallica, Van Halen and Bon Jovi are mega successful in the business because they can entertain. Are they the most virtuosic bands out there. Of course not, however they have had a career at a level that the most virtuosic artist out there dreams to have.

THE PROBLEM WITH OVERTHINKING

Brad Tolinski mentioned that the “opening track, “Lights And Thunder,” is interesting. It’s epic in length and structurally complex, yet the solo is relatively simple and minimal.”

Vito responded with the following;
“The lead part is simple, but I think it fits. When I was listening to some of our old records, I noticed a few lead breaks that struck me as being inappropriate. It’s not that they were bad; in fact, most of them were melodic and performed well. But in retrospect, some of them struck me as being too busy or ornate. When I first played the lead to “Lights And Thunder,” I thought, “God, I can’t play that. It’s bullshit. It’s too easy.” But everybody in the studio loved it and told me to sleep on it and listen to it again when I was fresh. The next day I came in and thought, “It still doesn’t sound like anything I would play, but it sure fits the bill.”

He is not sure and he is doubtful. He is over analysing his past work. It is all counter-productive. The interview with Guitar World was in the issue from July 1991. By September 1991 it was all over. When you overthink things too much, you second guess everything you do and in the end, you lose your fire, the motivation that kept you hungry.

THE STATE OF HARD ROCK MUSIC

In the June, 1989 issue of “Kerrang”, Vito states the following on his views of the current state of hard rock;

“I know a lot of bands who’ll write a song and their guitar players will say I’ve got to do a lead break here, I’ve got to let rip there. It’s an ego thing. When I write, I say well, the song will sound better if I have an acoustic here or a clear sounding guitar, maybe no lead. I think it’s really annoying when a melodic song is ruined by a guitar player blasting away, it grates on my nerves.”

In an issue of “Guitar World”, dated July, 1991, Bratta more or less stated the same view point as he did a few years ago.

“You can see the guitarist thinking. “Forget the song, forget the band, I just want to get my name in Guitar World.” That’s not where it’s at anymore. Everybody can play these days.

While I was living in L.A. last year, I went into a local music store to pick up an issue of your magazine, and I heard this incredible guitar player. It turned out to be some little kid with his dad! I mean, he had twice the chops I had. He came up and asked for my autograph, and I said, “Sure, one minute.” Then I snuck out the back door before he had a chance to ask me to jam.

I’ve run into kids that can play “Wait” better than I can, but what’s the point? Being a technician is only part of the equation, and I’m trying to study the other half: song writing.

I hate it when people say things like, “I know you write songs that are heard by millions of people, but are you really happy?” I mean, yeah. Don’t be absurd. I want as many people as possible to hear the band. I’m convinced that the reason people like Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton and the reason why they have endured is that they have composed memorable songs as well as solos.”

I have always said that Grunge didn’t kill the hard rock / glam rock movement. The rock movement killed itself. Hard Rock in the Eighties started off with the first wave of L.A bands. Then the second wave of L.A bands came along with the Classic seventies rockers who started to rebrand themselves to fit the scene. Then the third wave came and the fourth and the fifth further diluting the pool. Every two years, new cities got identified as the next big hub. So the Record Labels swarmed and so many inferior derivative bands got signed, that in the end, it all imploded. The real good acts couldn’t be heard from all the noise of the crap acts.

The current state of affairs in the music business bothered Vito. It played on his mind. He was a technician trying to find out how he fitted into the current climate. Should he write they way he also had or should he change and adapt so that he can meet expectations placed on him.

Unfortunately, Vito gave in to the expectations. He gave in to all the leaches that made multiple millions from his hard work.

VITO BRATTA RIG 1991

The “Mane Attraction” record was done with his trusty Steinberger guitar. In the “Guitar World” interview from July 1991, Vito said that he was planning on using something different when White Lion goes on tour as the Steinberger was starting to bother him because it was almost too easy to play.

“I’m not fighting for the notes anymore and I miss that tension. This may sound bizarre, but if you give me a Les Paul or a Strat I’m lost, and that bums me out. Lately I’ve been using an old ESP Strat that I’ve had laying around, just to get me back in shape.”

His amplification was basically the same system he has used for the last few years. The heart of Vito’s rack consists primarily of three units: an ADA MP-1 preamp, a BBE 422A Sonic Maximizer and a Digitech DSP 256 multi effects processor. The system is powered by a Carvin FET Series amplifier, and a Rocktron Hush keeps the lid on any excess noise.

“It’s a relatively simple rig, but it’s very effective. I put it together with Michael Wagener, who produced Pride and Big Game.”

THE GUITAR WORLD REVIEW

Mane attraction is Top 40 stuff, for sure. But not quite as gooey as the usual radio fare more like what the Baby’s used to do. Except White Lion has Vito Bratta. Though you have to wade knee-deep through patently clichéd arena rock-ioms for that Bratta burn, when he does cut loose it’s worth turning up the volume knob a decibel or three. But in bands where song writing is the chief concern, really exceptional guitarists always end up getting be shrouded like a lace covered end table. Your little sister is gonna buy it, so borrow it when she’s watching Dance Fever. And try to figure out how Vito manages to retain his credibility.

It’s funny reading the Guitar World interview first and then the review (They both appeared in the same issue). In the interview, Vito is talking about how he wants people to say that the song knocked them out, and then you have the reviewer saying that you need to “wade knee deep through patently clichéd arena rock-ioms for that Bratta burn.”

TRIBUTE TO SRV

In the same Guitar World interview from 1991, Vito commented on his tribute to the late Stevie Ray Vaughan.

“”Blue Monday” was my way of paying tribute to Stevie Ray Vaughan. I’m not really a lyricist, but I figured I could try to express my gratitude to him through my guitar. To this day I can’t even figure out why Stevie meant so much to me. He was just a guitarist, but his playing destroyed me. He was probably my favourite. You don’t really hear him in my playing, but I could listen to him night and day. I wasn’t trying to show off my blues chops. It was just a simple memorial to someone I admired very much. I don’t care if people think it’s the worst thing they’ve ever heard. It was my tribute to a great man.”

FINAL WORDS FROM MIKE TRAMP

Mike Tramp had the following to say on Vito in an interview with the website Metal Sludge; http://www.metalsludge.tv/?p=36727

“I had made a public statement that I was not willing to talk about all this anymore, and I don’t know what he is doing, but as far as Vito the guitar player and Vito the songwriter and musician, he was in a calibre all by himself. It shows in his great solos, and so many people love the way he played like Eddie with the hammer-ons and all that stuff like the Van Halen solo on “Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love.” I just love the way Vito played solos on “Wait” and “Little Fighter” and some of the others. He was like Mozart.

We tried to do new White Lions with Warren DeMartini and Paul Gilbert and all these others, and no one wanted to do Vito. He was unlike anyone else, he had his own way of doing thing, and plus he was a great songwriter. Had he remained in the business, Vito would have been bigger than Steve Vai and all those types of guys. With him the melody came before anything else, and that’s nothing but the highest praise. I loved the sound of his guitar and I loved writing songs with him and stuff like that, but we had nothing else in common, unfortunately. There isn’t any bad blood between us. It’s just frustrating that I’ve had to carry on White Lion all by myself 100 percent. I just want to set in on record once again: We were White Lion once, but never again. But as for Vito, I am surprised he isn’t a million percent bigger in the music business. I don’t have an answer. No one ever will.”

Could you imagine White Lion with Warren DeMartini on guitar or Paul Gilbert? Great players, however as Mike said, they wouldn’t touch Vito. He was better then all of them and the above words from Mike prove that. The difference between them is the mindset. Vito confused thought process with what was expected of him, instead of what he expected of himself. That is the difference between followers and leaders.

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Back in 1989, Derek Oliver said the following; Dream Theater: one of the most innovative bands in town.

I am re-reading a Kerrang interview that Derek Oliver conducted with Dream Theater back in 1989. It has the title; PROG ROCK LIVES… RUN TO THE HILLS.

Yes, that is the same Derek Oliver that negotiated Dream Theater’s deal with Atco and the same Derek Oliver, that had a song written in his name.

Pull Me Under originally had the working title of “Oliver’s Twist”. It was a last minute song written at the request of Derek Oliver. The original version also had the unbelievable solo section from Erotomania in it. Pull Me Under was so good, that John Petrucci used the 1st verse riff of Pull Me Under in The Count Of Tuscany 1st Verse from the album, Black Clouds and Silver Linings released in 2009. He also used the songs structure for the song On The Backs Of Angels from the album A Dramatic Turn Of Events released in 2011.

“They stand alone. Unique in their quest for musical perfection. Dream Theater have no boundaries. Their frontier terminates at the edge of infinity. Not surprisingly, yours truly has taken to this band like a fish to water.”

He is a fan, and in two years’ time this fan would play a major part in breaking Dream Theater to the masses. See what fans can do for a band. Throughout the article, Oliver is full of praise of the band. He introduces the band’s new album, When Dream and Day Unite and covers the Dream Theater backstory from 1985. Oliver also touches on the name change from Majesty to Dream Theater and the reasons behind it. Most importantly the article finishes with the following comment; “Dream Theater: one of the most innovative bands in town.”

There it is. The magic word. Innovative. To be successful, you’ve got to change something that is not working. To remain successful, you need to keep on changing something that is not working.

Why did Apple become a giant in the first place?. Innovation. Why did Apple fade from view after 1985? Lack of innovation. Why did Apple become a giant again from 1999? Innovation. Why is Apple fading again since 2011? Lack of innovation.

On the day that I purchased When Dream and Day Unite, I also purchased the Watchtower album Control and Resistance. Watchtower had guitarist Ron Jarzombek and to be honest, he was one technically wired maestro. I listened to Watchtower’s album and was blown away by the technicality of it. Then I put on Dream Theater’s album and was blown away by the technicality and the songs.

This is in 1989. At that time, hard rock was ruling the charts and the sales. Every band more or less sounded the same. The ones that innovated, ending up breaking through and remaining.

So the album comes out, the label Mechanix does nothing with it, the band doesn’t tour behind it and compared to the numbers that other bands achieved in 1989, the album was classed a failure. Remember to be successful, you’ve got to change something that is not working.

Vocalist, Charlie Domicini was let go. At first the band focused on trying to find a new singer. During this time, they also focused on writing better songs. Most bands normally have 3 months to come out with album number 2. Dream Theater in this case had 2 years. Furthermore, their sound evolved from the technical derivative metal sound on When Dream and Day Unite, to a more warmer sound, rooted in classic progressive rock.

Remember to be successful you need to change something that is not working. In this case Dream Theater changed vocalists, their sound, their song structures and in the end they change labels as well.

Mike Portnoy also said in the interview that most styles of music tend to go around in cycles and he thought it was about the right time for Dream Theater’s sound to make an impact.

There it is. The second magic word. The Right Time.

Let’s look at the competition in 1989. Dream Theater needed to compete against bands that released albums in 1987 and in 1988, as well as bands that released albums in 1989. That is a lot of music there to compete against. Was 1989 the right time for Dream Theater? Of course not. Look at the list below.

1987 – Guns N Roses – Appetite For Destruction
1987 – Ozzy Osbourne – Tribute
1987 – Whitesnake – Whitesnake
1987 – Def Leppard – Hysteria
1987 – Motley Crue – Girls, Girls, Girls
1987 – Kiss – Crazy Nights
1987 – White Lion – Pride
1988 – Poison – Open Up and Say Ahh,
1988 – Bon Jovi – New Jersey
1988 – David Lee Roth – Skyscraper
1988 – Megadeth – So Far, So Good… So What
1988 – AC/DC – Blow Up Your Video
1988 – Kingdom Come – Kingdom Come
1988 – Iron Maiden – Seventh Son of a Seventh Son
1988 – Scorpions – Savage Amusement
1988 – Queensryche – Operation Mindcrime
1988 – Van Halen – OU812
1988 – Stryper – In God We Trust
1988 – Slayer – South Of Heaven
1988 – Cinderella – Long Cold Winter
1988 – Britny Fox – Britny Fox
1988 – Danzig – Danzig
1988 – Europe – Out Of This World
1988 – Winger – Winger
1988 – Metallica …And Justice For All
1988 – Anthrax – State Of Euphoria
1988 -Ozzy Osbourne – No Rest For The Wicked
1988 – BulletBoys – BulletBoys
1988 – U2 – Rattle and Hum
1988 – Guns N Roses – Lies
1989 – Skid Row – Skid Row
1989 – After the War – Gary Moore
1989 – The Great Radio Controversy – Tesla
1989 – Extreme – Extreme
1989 – ..Twice Shy – Great White
1989 – The Headless Children – W.A.S.P.
1989 – Headless Cross – Black Sabbath
1989 – Blue Murder – Blue Murder
1989 – Dangerous Toys – Dangerous Toys
1989 – Badlands – Badlands
1989 – Repeat Offender – Richard Marx
1989 – Big Game – White Lion
1989 – Bad English – Bad English
1989 – Danger Danger – Danger Danger
1989 – The End of the Innocence – Don Henley
1989 – Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich – Warrant
1989 – Trash – Alice Cooper
1989 – Practice What You Preach – Testament
1989 – Trouble in Angel City – Lion
1989 – Perfect Symmetry – Fates Warning
1989 – Mother’s Milk – Red Hot Chili Peppers
1989 – Conspiracy – King Diamond
1989 – Enuff Z’nuff – Enuff Z’nuff
1989 – Cocked & Loaded – L.A. Guns
1989 – Dr. Feelgood – Mötley Crüe
1989 – Alice in Hell – Annihilator
1989 – Gretchen Goes to Nebraska – King’s X
1989 – The Real Thing – Faith No More
1989 – Mr. Big – Mr. Big
1989 – Slowly We Rot – Obituary
1989 – Bleach – Nirvana
1989 – The Offspring – The Offspring
1989 – Alice in Hell – Annihilator
1989 – Louder Than Love – Soundgarden
1989 – Wake Me When It’s Over – Faster Pussycat
1989 – Pump – Aerosmith
1989 – Let Love Rule – Lenny Kravitz
1989 – Seasons End – Marillion
1989 – The Seeds of Love – Tears for Fears
1989 – Trouble Walkin’ – Ace Frehley
1989 – The Years of Decay – Overkill
1989 – Nothingface – Voivod
1989 – Long Hard Look – Lou Gramm
1989 – Storm Front – Billy Joel
1989 – Hot in the Shade – Kiss
1989 – Pretty Hate Machine – Nine Inch Nails
1989 – Flying in a Blue Dream – Joe Satriani
1989 – Slip of the Tongue – Whitesnake
1989 -…But Seriously – Phil Collins
1989 – Presto – Rush
1989 – Gutter Ballet – Savatage

So fast forward to 1992. Based on the competition, fate would have that 1992 was the right time for Dream Theater to explode. I have always said that the bands that remain successful are the ones that outlast the competition. Let’s see the competition that Dream Theater had for listeners attention.
1991 – Metallica – Metallica
1991 – Skid Row – Slave To The Grind
1991 – Guns N Roses – Use Your Illusion I and II
1991 – Nirvana – Nevermind
1991 – Pearl Jam – Ten
1991 – Van Halen – For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge
1991 – Alice Cooper – Hey Stoopid
1991 – Rush – Roll The Bones
1991 – Tesla – Psychotic Supper
1991 – Ozzy Osbourne – No More Tears
1991 – Red Hot Chilli Peppers – Blood Sugar Sex Magik
1991 – Soundgarden – Badmotorfinger
1992 – Alice In Chains – Sap
1992 – Pantera – Vulgar Display Of Power
1992 – Kings X – Kings X
1992 – Tool – Opiate
1992 – White Zombie – La Sexorcisto: Devil Music, Vol 1
1992 – Def Leppard – Adrenalize
1992 – Yngwie Malmsteen – Fire and Ice
1992 – Slaughter – The Wild Life
1992 – Iron Maiden – Fear Of The Dark
1992 – Testament – The Ritual
1992 – Kiss – Revenge
1992 – WASP – The Crimson Idol
1992 – Firehouse – Hold Your Fire
1992 – Black Sabbath – Dehumanizer
1992 – Helmet – Meantime
1992 – Megadeth – Countdown To Extinction
1992 – Danzig – Danzig III: How The Gods Kill
1992 – Warrant – Dog Eat Dog
1992 – Ugly Kid Joe – America’s Least Wanted
1992 – Extreme – III Sides To Every Story
1992 – Alice In Chains – Dirt
1992 – Soul Asylum – Grave Dancers Union
1992 – REM – Automatic For The People
1992 – Prince – Love Symbol Album
1992 – Rage Against The Machine – Rage Against The Machine

Notice the diminished presence of hard rock music in the above list. Hard Rock music is a big reason why 1989 didn’t work out for Dream Theater. Fans of rock music got sledgehammered with substandard hard rock releases in 1989, as the record labels tried their best to cash in on a movement that was starting its own self implosion. Dream Theater was just lost in the mix.

So what do the hard rock fans in 1992 do? At this point in time they are starved of quality hard rock releases. Some of them jump onto the Seattle movement. Some go back and re-discover the past. The rest go in search of something that is similar to what they have known.

Enter Dream Theater with Images and Words. The album was unique and innovative to remain rooted to the prog rock niche that Derek Oliver spoke about in 1989 and it was familiar enough to cross over to the hard rock audience, looking for something new and exciting.

So to remain successful, you need to keep on changing something that is not working. The Kevin Moore situation was unexpected to the rest of the band and because of that, they had to make a decision on the fly. That is when Derek Sherinian was hired.

Fame also produced record label expectations and all of that came to a head with the Falling Into Infinity project and tour of 1997/98. Something had to change.

Jordan Rudess was in, Derek Sherinian was out. The role of Producer shifted from hired outsiders to Portnoy and Petrucci. Finally, an ultimatum was given to the label, do not get involved in the songs that we create.

What came next? Metropolis II: Scenes Of A Memory. A truly innovative album. It had the hard rock vibe that Dream Theater is renowned for, it had the progressive rock vibe and more importantly, it had that connection with the current musical climate, referencing bands like Tool and Alice In Chains.

How can you top it? Easy, do a double album that is even more innovative. Say hello to Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence.

By the time 2003 came around, the New Wave Of American Heavy Metal was in full swing. So what do Dream Theater do? Create a metal masterpiece in Train Of Thought. Another album that was rooted in so many different styles and an album that still remained unique to the progressive rock movement.

Then came another unexpected change with the departure of Mike Portnoy in 2010 and again Dream Theater had to make a decision on the fly.

It’s 2013. Dream Theater are about to release their first self-titled album. In this current environment, music is getting released left, right and centre. Independent DIY bands are competing against label funded bands. Is Dream Theater still one of the most innovative bands in town?

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Classic Songs to Be Discovered, Music

Saraya – Timeless Love – Classic Song Waiting to be Discovered

I was listening to Halestorm and when I heard Lzzy’s voice, three female voices came to mind immediately.  Ann Wilson from Heart, Pat Benater and Saraya’s.  It’s a tragedy that there isn’t more content on the web dedicated to Saraya.  Her voice is magical, soulful, bluesy, rocky and sexual.

It was Timeless Love from the Shocker soundtrack of 1989 that first got my attention.  It’s a ballad and for some insane reason, it isn’t included on the normal version of the self titled album released the same year, only on an overpriced import album.  Chalk that down to greedy record labels. 

In order to “OWN” the song, you had to purchase the Shocker Soundtrack if it was available, or order it in, where they charged you a bit more for it. That is what I needed to do to hear the music I liked back in eighties. Radio in Australia very rarely played the music I liked, so I needed to spend money on it. 

Timeless Love is another gem written by Desmond Child.  It is a bona fide hit. The melody is haunting and beautiful.  Desmond Child stated in a LA Times article, that Saraya had take after take at completing the song, however she just wasn’t getting the emotion across, that Child wanted to hear. So then an idea came to him.    

“I wanted a huge chain, like they use to tie up a mean dog,” said Child with an impish grin. “I told her that doing this song was like being in a play, where she was playing a character, a woman all tied up in knots over this guy.  Then I wrapped her up in the chains and she got the song on the first take.”

If it is true, he got the take that he wanted, as the vocals are dead set chilling.

There is no tomorrow in my heart
Only dreamers believe in time

So let’s leave no regrets behind

Does it sound like the run of the mill Bon Jovi style that Desmond was renowned for?  No chance.  This is a classic ballad in the vein of Heart’s – Alone.

Steve Lukather of Toto fame does the guitar work and the unbelievable guitar solo, Myron Grombacher from Pat Benater’s band is on drums and John Pierce from Huey Lewis and the News is on bass.  It’s a super group of seasoned musicians, that know how to deliver.

Jennifer Rush (from The Power of Love fame) covered the song and it was too perfect.  It was a great cover version, however Saraya’s version just has that special emotion in it, that special rawness that makes it perfect.

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Classic Songs to Be Discovered, Music

Stargazer – Kingdom Come – Classic Song waiting to be discovered

It’s the keyboard synth intro.  It grabs you from the outset and by the time the whole band kicks in with the guitar line playing the same keyboard intro, you are hooked.

Lenny Wolf was the Eighties Robert Plant.  He did Robert Plant better than Robert Plant.  Regardless of how critics and fans saw Kingdom Come, one thing is undeniable, they wrote songs that are catchy as hell.

Stargazer is not a charting song.  It was never designed to be.  It is a classic rock song.  It is written by singer Lenny Wolf, guitarists Danny Stag / Rick Steier and bassist Johnny B Frank.   The song was produced by Keith Olsen fresh from Whitesnake’s smash 1987 album and Ozzy’s No Rest For The Wicked.  It has an epic feel to it, however it is only 5 minutes long.

Sitting in the dark
Staring at the sky
Within all of heavens eyes
Wondering where and why
Who made all of this come alive
Who knows what will come in time

The ultimate question, the why are we are, and what is our purpose in life.

Ooh, just to know what’s the reason for making us
Is what I would like to know
Ooh, just to know where we go when the earth is cold
We may never know

If only we had a crystal ball that could tell us the answers.  If only we had a crystal ball to look into the future.

All the mystery dreams and fantasy
We touched on our way to see

Living day by day trying to getaway
Dream on to another space

We always wanted to be somewhere else.  We are like the small town boy or girl from Don’t Stop Believing.  Trying to catch the last train out of our current lives and into a better life.  Of course life is nothing like that.

Ooh, just to know that you are not the only one
Who is searching on
Ooh, just to know that beyond there is something more
For the rich and poor

Live, work, die.  Three words that sound familiar to everybody.  When said together like that, it is the easiest summation of every single persons’ life.  We just want to know if there is some afterlife, something after death that makes this life worth it.

Check it out.. YouTube

Within three months of the In Your Face album coming out, the band had called it a day.  What an implosion?  At least they left us with two classic albums, with the classic line up.

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Copyright, Music, My Stories

Danny Stag – Guitar World – September 1989

The interview below (in italics) appeared in the September 1989 issue of Guitar World.  It was written by Brad Tolinski.

Kingdom Come lead guitarist Danny Stag speaks with the humility of a man who knows he’s been blessed. ‘”It was a mind blower” he says, describing last summers’ Monsters Of Rock tour.   “Our U.S. debut was in front of 40,000 people.  Some bands only get to do that a couple of times in their whole careers, and many never get that chance at all.  We did a whole tour to those numbers.” 

We got short changed in Australia.  We never got these mega bills of super star bands.  I remember buying Circus, Metal Edge and Hit Parader and reading about the Monsters of Rock tour.  It had Kingdom Come opening, followed by Metallica, then Dokken, then Scorpions and the mighty Van Halen headlining.  Kingdom Come formed in 1987, taking musicians from various other rock groups that were paying their dues on the club circuit.  By 1988 they had gone multi-platinum with their debut and are playing to 40,000 people. It was this kind of ride to the top, that a lot of kids expected to happen to them once they formed bands.   When it didn’t happen within one to two years, they would call it quits.  

On the tour with Stag were some of rock s most lauded guitarists, including the legendary Edward Van Halen. When asked whether he found such fast company intimidating, Stag launches into an illuminating examination of his roots.  “I realized that I was the only a blues based player,” he says. “Rather than competing, I was playing in my own ball game. My tastes run more towards Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon and Jimi Hendrix.  People don’t usually think of Hendrix as a blues traditionalist, but I feel he was one of the masters, maybe the ultimate.” 

As an aspiring guitarist, this is what I wanted to read.  Who influenced the people that are influencing me?  Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf, Willie Dixon.  Back in 1989, I had never heard of those players.  There is that name again Jimi Hendrix.  His name just kept on popping up in interviews from the Eighties.   

Although one wouldn’t immediately detect the Mississippi Delta in the arena rock anthems of Kingdom Come, interludes like the funky acoustic intro to “Highway 6,” off their latest, In Your Face, suggest a refreshing depth and sense of history.  Stag is pleasantly forthright and even passionate about his music and his influences. However, he makes only brief mention of the band Kingdom Come is most often compared to Led Zeppelin.  How valid does Stag see those comparisons to be?

“I must admit, I used to scratch my head in disbelief when people compared me to Page.  He was an influence, but not a big one.  I really liked Zeppelin’s first two albums, but I didn’t care that much for what followed.  I think younger people are missing the Hendrix part of my playing because they aren’t as familiar with him as they are with Page.” 

“This Led Zeppelin/Kingdom Come comparison has been blown way out of proportion. Some of it comes from the way Lenny (Wolf, Kingdom Come’s vocalist) sings, but if you listen to Lenny and Robert Plant back-to-back you’ll find they don’t sound anything a like.  Plant’s voice has completely different tonal qualities.  Maybe we come out sounding like Zeppelin when everything is mixed with our drummer, who plays a monster back beat.  It’s hard to escape the fact that Zeppelin created certain hard-rock conventions that every band uses.” 

“But you could accuse Hendrix of ripping off Muddy Waters,” says Stag with increasing irritation. “Voodoo Chile is a lot like Water’s (I’m Your) Hoochie Coochie Man.  The Beatles were influenced by Buddy Holly and the Everly Brothers.  The difference is, the Beatles and Hendrix did variations on the music they loved and their influences were more like tributes. Paying respect to your musical forefathers is part of a long tradition.   Ex-Zepsters Page, Plant and John Paul Jones, who’ve been openly hostile to bands like Kingdom Come and Whitesnake, should perhaps re-examine the condition of their glass houses.  It’s fairly common knowledge that Led Zeppelin brazenly borrowed, almost note-for-note, several Chess-label classics.”

“Whole Lotta Love, one of their biggest hits, was proven in a court of law to have been taken directly—without permission or subsequent knowledge—from a Willie Dixon tune.  After I read an interview with Page where he accused me of stealing from him, I wanted to do a solo album and call it Houses of The Bitter.  I’d record Whole Lotta Love, I Can’t Quit You and You Shook Me and write in huge letters who really wrote those tunes.  To be influenced like we’ve been is one thing, but to steal songs without acknowledgement is another.”

“I don’t know.  Maybe some of the bad blood started when a journalist misquoted me.  This guy told Page that I claimed to never having heard Led Zeppelin.  That’s obviously absurd and Jimmy would have a right to feel ticked off.”

Back in September 1989, this was a shock to read.  Led Zeppelin borrowing songs from other artists and passing it off as their own.  These days, I am older and wiser, but back then I was green.  They even stole the intro riff to Stairway To Heaven and failed to acknowledge it.  I have said it many times, musicians are the sum of their influences.  No music is created in a vacuum.  Kingdom Come is very similar to the hard rock version of Led Zeppelin and they hit pay dirt with that similarity.  The audience wanted Led Zeppelin to be around.  Since Led Zep was not around, other bands stepped up like Whitesnake and Kingdom Come to fill the void.  The audience lapped it up, sending these bands to the top of the charts.   

Stag sounds defensive but he doesn’t need to be.  His manic, hormonally charged soloing, aggressive pick attack and tightly would vibrato remain distinctive whether filtered through a single coil Strat pick up, a fat sounding Les Paul or a plain old acoustic Martin. 

“I never work out solos,” says Stag.  “I just wait til I’m inspired.  Then I have the engineers crank the music real loud in the control room and I go for it.  I just shut my eyes and improvise.  It’s like a short burst of emotion.  When you want to comment on something, you use the words available to you in your vocabulary.  Soloing is like that with me.  I’m commenting on what’s happening musically by reaching into my built up musical vocabulary of licks and scales and use whatever is relevant.  I don’t worry about how it’s going to work, it’s just a feel thing.”  

I used to read the comments from guitarists who said they never worked their solos out with a grain of salt.  My idol Randy Rhoads worked his solo’s out and he created masterpieces, Vito Bratta the same.  Solos are meant to add to the song.  This is what guitarists forgot towards the late eighties.  In saying that, Stag’s leads where good on the ear.  By having a musical vocabulary, he had that knowledge to work out the solos on the fly. 

To translate that feeling in the studio, Stag uses a 1962 Stratocaster with a bridge-position humbucker, in tandem with a 50-watt Marshall head. All of Stag’s Stage effects are by T.C. Electronics.  “My system is pretty simple. The 2290 has five effects loops, and they’re completely programmable.  Most of the time I just use a little delay panned so that two of my cabinets are dry and two are wet. I keep the dry cabinets so I never lose punch.  I have some parametric eq’s, but I only use them on one song and a couple of solos.  They help emphasize my single-coil sound.”

How minimal the set up?  That is what Rock N Roll is all about.  Plug the guitar into the amp, turn it up and bash away.  These days, the guitar rigs are a plethora of schematics. 

Now that Kingdom Come has comfortably settled into star status, what does the future hold for Stag?  
“I’d like to experiment more with sound, like the weird stuff Hendrix was doing on Axis: Bold As Love. I don’t really think you lose your identity when you change tone or pickups; it’s what ‘s under the fingers. You could tell it was Hendrix whether he was playing clean or whether his sound was balls-to-the wall.  Having sound is everything, but having a sound is not.  Kingdom Come is close to taking its place alongside the great bands.  We’re like a Deep Purple, a Rainbow or a Led Zeppelin. We might not be as original as those guys were in their time, but we have that kind of musicianship. We’ve got the depth.”

The interview appeared in the September 1989 Guitar World issue.  It was obviously done around April / May 1989 when the In Your Face album was released.  Kingdom Come called it quits in August 1989.  So by the time the magazine hit the newsstands, Kingdom Come was no more.  They left us with two magical albums.  In Your Face is a very under rated album and it deserves more attention than what it got.  However that is for another day.     

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