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

Al Pitrelli – 1990 to 1992

Let’s go back to when Pitrelli got booted or left Danger Danger in 1988.

Bruno Ravel and Steve West held a tight ship on the writing process. It was either written by Ravel/West or Pitrelli/Pont. On occasions Pitrelli and Ravel would write. But once Pont was booted, Pitrelli felt that he was getting squeezed out.

Danger Danger is seen as Bruno Ravel’s band, however it was Al Pitrelli’s to begin with. So he stayed, because like Ravel, he wanted a record deal. With the addition of Ted Poley, the demos the band recorded got the band its Epic deal, however it also got Pitrelli out of the band due to disagreements with the A&R rep.

The Alice Cooper touring gig was a massive opportunity moving from regional nickel and dime gigs to arenas.

Joining Cooper and Pitrelli was his old Berklee friend Derek Sherinian on keys. The other guitarist was Pete Friesen who did multiple stings with Cooper between 1989-91, 1998-2000 and 2002. In between those stints he became the lead guitarist in “The Almighty”, did a stint in Bruce Dickinson’s solo band and prior to joining Alice Cooper he was in VO5 with Sebastian Bach.

The bassist is Tommy Caradonna who did work with Lita Ford before Alice Cooper and the drummer is Jonathan Mover who also did work with Marillion. Although not confirmed, I did read stories that Caradonna was the bassist that Michael Bolton did not like back in 1985 when Pitrelli brought a fully formed band to Bolton to become his touring band.

How Al Pitrelli got the gig with Alice Cooper is told a bit differently in this RAW article. Although Matt Bissonette did recommend Pitrelli, it was Steve Vai again who sealed the deal.

“I called up Steve Vai (ex-Dave Lee Roth guitarist, now with Whitesnake) and said: ‘I know you’re taken, so tell me who the next best is’.

And he said Al Pitrelli (from Long Island, New York). So as soon as I got him Roth calls up and says: ‘Did you take that guy?’ Cos he wanted him, but I had him, ha!”

In a Guitar mag interview, Alice Cooper had this to say about Al Pitrelli’s involvement.

“I particularly picked Pete and Al for two different reasons, even though they look like they could be brothers. Al is a total free spirit.

I called Steve Vai up and said, “I know you’re taken. Tell me the next best guy.” He said, “Al Pitrelli. He’s very fluid. He can play anything. He has a ‘leader’ quality.” That’s what I was looking for.”

For Kiss fans, Mark St. John was also in the running for the Alice Cooper gig.

In relation to the Roth gig, the slot went to Jason Becker, however tragedy was around the corner for Becker, with a disease called Lou Gehrig’s, which would leave Becker paralysed completely and relying on machines and special communication devices based on eye movements and blinking to communicate.

And Roth’s career took a nose dive after Steve Vai’s departure. By the mid 90’s, Roth was out of the music business and working as an Emergency Medical Technician.

A few side notes here.

  • Going back to the Jason Becker and Roth connection, Pitrelli would be replacing Becker’s “Cacophony” guitar mate Marty Friedman in Megadeth at the start of the 2000’s.
  • During the Pitrelli/Alice Cooper audition, his Hotshot bassist, Teddy Cook was also auditioning for Dio as part of the “Lock Up The Wolves” era circa 1989/90. After Dio disbanded, when Ronnie re-joined Black Sabbath, Cook would go on to play with Great White, Virgin Steele and Randy Jackson’s China Rain.
  • Hotshot with new members who replaced Pitrelli and Cook, were still pushing the demo they did with Pitrelli and Cook. Nikki Sixx and Tommy Lee heard it and wanted to produce the band. At the time, the Toxic Twins were going to start their own label however the departure of Vince Neil changed all that and Hotshot was again without a deal.

Before Pitrelli got the Alice Cooper gig, he needed to make some fast career decisions. He left Danger Danger because he didn’t have proper opportunities to compose songs with Ravel and West. In Alice Cooper he wouldn’t have those opportunities either. But in Hotshot, he had the creative freedom to write what he wanted and Hotshot was getting a lot of attention. Alice Cooper while successful in the past, was also known as having his ups and downs. On top of that, Pitrelli’s home life was doing guitar lessons, earning about $400 a week, married and with a son.

Pitrelli selected Alice Cooper.

In the end, Pitrelli was Alice Cooper’s guitarist and musical director from 1989 until 1991 on the “Trashes The World” tour. Shows from this tour were captured on tape and released on VHS in 1990.

There was a full dress rehearsal gig before the tour started. Steve Vai and Gregg Bissonette attended. Pitrelli was thankful of the two and hugged Bissonette for a long time.

Once the gig with Alice was over or in downtime between Alice shows, Pitrelli re-joined with Randy Coven and drummer John O’Reilly as a formal member of the Randy Coven Band to release “Sammy Says Ouch!” in 1990. On top of that, he also did some session work for Donny Osmond and that album “Eyes Don’t Lie” was also released in 1990. The lesson he learnt from the Michael Bolton days was to play with whoever and wherever.

His session work didn’t end there with albums from Kathy Troccoli called “Pure Attraction” and Henry Lee Summer called “Way Past Midnight” seeing releases. His skills to adapt to various musical styles was on par with Steve Lukather, who was a go to session guru as well. A song he wrote with Jimmy DeGrasso called “City” would also end up on the album “Ten” by Y&T.

Y&T by this time had Stef Burns in the band after Joey Alves left and Alice Cooper history shows that Stef Burns would replace Al Pitrelli within his touring band. And DeGrasso would leave Y&T to join Cooper as well.

In 1992, one my favourite albums was released.

The band was called Widowmaker and the album was “Blood And Bullets”. This was Dee Snider’s post Twisted Sister band 5 years after Twisted Sister broke up and two years after the failed Desperado project with Elektra. The band was aggressive, crunchier and the musicians a step above.

The band name was suggested by producer Ric Wake because he liked the song called “The Widowmaker”.

Snider even contacted bassist Bob Daisley (Rainbow and Ozzy Osbourne), who played in the original Widowmaker, about using the name and got a “who cares if you use the name” reply.

Rick Wake as Producer was an interesting choice as his experience at that time was purely pop artists like Taylor Dayne, Mariah Carey, Diana Ross and Sheena Easton.

It’s also worth noting that there are songs on this album from the Desperado project written with Bernie Torme (RIP) which Snider had to buy back the rights to from Elektra. The songs “Calling For You”, “Gone Bad” and “Emaheevull” got re-done in Widowmaker. Other songs like “Hang Em High” and “Cry You A Rainbow”, would be released on other Dee Snider’s solo album “Never Let The Bastards Wear You Down”.

“Reason To Kill” is from the debut album. Snider is angry here and that anger is directed at Bob Krasnow, the head of Elektra Records and the person responsible for killing off the Desperado project and then not allowing Snider to take his songs elsewhere.

So you used me
Then threw me away

That is the slogan of the Label Run Music Business. Actually it still is, especially to the ones who still chase major label gigs.

All my life it seems
Been spent building’ dreams
I knew would be broke by you

Dee left Twisted Sister in 1987 and spent three years writing, demoing and recording the Desperado album, only to have it pulled from release in 1990. The band splintered apart and he was left in no man’s land. Three years out of the public eye in the music business is a life time, and prior to Desperado, Dee spent his whole life building up Twisted Sister only to have that broken as well, by label and management pressure.

Dee was also upset with Atlantic when the label announced it was putting together a best-of Twisted Sister album, which was released a few months before the Widowmaker album. It was typical of the labels. Releasing music as best offs. The maths are simple. Zero Cost = Pure Profit.

Dee Snider wanted to play bigger places with Widowmaker and he wanted similar commercial success to his Twisted Sister days, but it never happened. A loyal core fan base would be there to support the band when it made the trek to play the Clubs it had booked.

Acts like The Black Crowes, Bon Jovi, Metallica and Pantera were selling out larger venues. Pearl Jam, Alice In Chains, Soundgarden and Nirvana would join them soon. But the biggest thing with Widowmaker was the lack of promo. No one knew that Dee Snider was even in the band.

Pitrelli meanwhile was still in demand as a session player.

The Asia band featured three original members in keyboardist Geoff Downes, guitarist Steve Howe and drummer Carl Palmer. It’s debatable how much Howe and Palmer actually played on the album.

Joining them for 1992’s “Aqua” release is Al Pitrelli on guitars and bassist vocalist John Payne. However, Pitrelli and Palmer never toured on this album as per the agreement, with their spots going to Vinny Burns on guitar and Trevor Thornton on drums.

Also in the same year, Coven and Pitrelli did a different project called Coven, Pitrelli, and Reilly (CPR). The album was simply titled “CPR” after the band.

He also was a writer on the “Hey Stoopid” album which came out in 1992. The song “Burning Our Bed” made it to the album (a co-write with Alice Cooper, Bib Pfeifer and his old Hotshot/Danger Danger buddy Steve West, while a few other songs remained in the demo stages.

He also did some session work for the act Expose. Their self-titled third album was released in 1992. The album’s music style has more pop and less Latin than their previous albums. Pitrelli plays guitar on two songs written by Diane Warren called “As Long As I Can Dream” (a co-write with Roy Orbison) and “In Walked Love”.

More to come as the 90s proved to be a big breakout year for Pitrelli.

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A to Z of Making It, Music, My Stories

Is Guitar World Still Relevant?

Once upon a time getting on the cover of a magazine was a sign of success or of dreams coming true. For the musical fan, the magazine was the only way that we could get any information from our favourite artists. The heyday for the metal and rock movements was the Eighties. Hundreds of different magazines appeared that covered certain genres and information was plentiful.

I started purchasing Guitar World magazines from January 1986. Any magazine that had content of bands/artists that I liked I devoured. Circus, Faces, Metal Maniacs, Rip, Metal Edge, Hit Parader, Guitar For The Practicing Musician, Hot Metal, Metal Hammer, Kerrang, Guitar School, Guitar One, Total Guitar, Guitar Player and Guitar.

So when I saw my favourite artists or guitarists on the cover of magazines I saw it as a sign of them making it. In all of the interviews, most of the guitarists said it was a dream come true to be on the cover of a Guitar magazine.

So how important is it to an artist to be on the cover of Guitar World today? I still subscribe to this magazine and I had all the issues for the year mapped out in front of me.

This is the cover roll for 2013.
December – Nirvana – In Utero Anniversary
November – John Petrucci
October – Synester Gates / Zacky Vengeance
September – Ultimate Prog Roundtable/Asking Alexandria
August – Jeff Hanneman Tribute
July – Tony Iommi and Ozzy Osbourne
June – Dave Mustaine / Chris Broderick
May – Brad Paisley
April – Orianthi
March – SRV “Texas Flood” Anniversary
February – The Who / Pete Townsend
January – Led Zeppelin Rides Again

Looking at the covers, I started to realise something.

Guitar World likes to play it safe. Sort of like a record label in the current environment. They are going for the sure bets, going where the money is. There is no onus on going out there and taking risks. They are looking for the hits, so that they can sell advertising.

If the “legends” have something happening or an anniversary of an album, it is a good bet that they will get a cover. Led Zeppelin, The Who, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Tony Iommi with Ozzy Osbourne and Nirvana. 5 issues out of 12 devoted to “legends”.

Then you have the tribute piece, which in this case it the Jeff Hanneman issue. Expect one to come out for Lou Reed soon.

Then it is focusing on the stars that have been proven successful previously in the magazine, like John Petrucci, Dave Mustaine and Avenged Sevenfold, who of course wouldn’t even be considered unless they have new releases coming out.

Then it has the obligatory issue with a woman on the cover. I actually liked how they covered Orianthi however the interview was a mish mash of information found on Wikipedia and PR rewrites. There was nothing there that couldn’t be found on the web.

The only issue that involved some ‘originality’ and some risk taking was the Brad Paisley issue however again after reading the interview piece, I was left wondering if the final printed version was re-written by a PR person of the artist.

Robb Flynn’s recent journal about the Through The Ashes of Empires anniversary, mentions the following in relation to mainstream media;
“The American metal media blacklisted us, magazines like Revolver told us, “we can’t cover you, but if you get to 50,000 copies we’ll give you an article.” When we got to 50,000 they said, “Well, when you get to 70,000 we’ll give you an article”. When we got to 70,000 they said, “well, the record is too old now.” The metal media of the time continued that blacklist well into “The Blackening” album cycle, when after that, they just didn’t matter anymore.”

So taking Robb Flynn’s comments and putting them up against the Brad Paisley cover issue, the originality comment I mentioned earlier doesn’t seem to fit. Brad Paisley has four pages of certifications on the RIAA Gold and Platinum database. His sales are well over the 50,000 and 70,000 ranges quoted, hence a cover.

Don’t get me wrong, each issue is still enjoyable and the lessons, plus the tabs are the reason why I still subscribe to it. However, with user posted tabs on the rise in greater numbers on the internet (along with peer reviews and edits), plus YouTube videos of guitarists covering their favourite songs, in addition to the artists themselves delving deep into the “how to play” department, does a magazine like Guitar World still have a relevance in today’s market?

It all depends on what Guitar World wants to achieve. People still like to read a nice interview however over the last decade all the interviews seem like they have been written by a PR team for the artist. Furthermore, artists can go straight to their audience today. The journals that Robb Flynn is producing are pure GOLD. So why would artists wait for the chance to appear in a magazine which could or could not happen.

Guitar World is in the business of selling advertising. It is using music and artists as it’s tool to sell advertising.

So if you are an artist, what does the mainstream press mean to your career?

In my point of view, no artist should equate mainstream press with success. Artists are on the front page for a day, and in most cases they are gone.

Has anyone read anything on Dream Theater’s or Black Sabbath’s new record the last few weeks? Dream Theater and Sabbath made a mistake. Their marketing campaign was better and larger than the music on the album. At the end of the day it’s what goes into our ears that matters. No one cares about the interviews or the press.

The publicity campaign worked once upon a time, however it doesn’t work any longer. If artists want to be around forever they need to understand that they need to grow slowly. If you peak, you should want it to happen deep into your career.

The only press that Megadeth is getting about their new album recently is that the Metallica Black album is outselling it on a weekly basis.

So what have we learned?

A cover on a magazine does nothing for your career. If you want to last in the music business, you need to earn it.

A scorched earth publicity campaign could see an increase in sales NOW. However, fans don’t want to be beaten upon the head every time you release music. In the end, great music will find its way to an audience.

The recording business is about listenability and repeatability. People could say that a track is good or bad. However will they play that track over and over again. That’s the reaction you want. If you plan to record, you need that track.

The goal of an artist is to write great songs otherwise say hello to obscurity. That is what gets people interested. Great music, great songs.

If you are not passionate about what you do you’re never going to make it. You need to be more into it than we are. You need to live for it.

For comparisons here is the list from 2012.

Holiday – Joe Perry (Legend)
December – The Beatles (Legends)
November – Billie Joe Armstrong (Safe Bet + High Sales Numbers)
October – Billy Gibbons (Legend)
September – Steve Vai & Tosin Abasi (Legend and Newcomer)
August – Van Halen (Legend + High Sales Numbers)
July – Slash (Legend + High Sales Numbers)
June – Slipknot (Safe Bet + High Sales Numbers)
May – Joe Walsh (Legend)
April – Van Halen (Legend + High Sales Numbers)
March – Lamb of God (Safe Bet + High Sales Numbers)
February – Pink Floyd (Legend + High Sales Numbers)
January – Billy Gibbons (Legend)

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