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, Unsung Heroes

Al Pitrelli – The 80’s

It starts with the “Fools Game” album by Michael Bolton released in 1983, back when Bolton was trying to be Sammy Hagar instead of the soul Bolton we came to know.

Actually it goes back a few years to 1981 and a band called Magic and a 7 inch single called “Too Much Too Quickly” that had Al Pitrelli playing guitar.

So before Bolton and Berklee there was MAGIC.

They used to rehearse in the basement of a video arcade in East Meadow.

Back to Bolton.

Bruce Kulick and his brother Bob, play guitar on the studio album. Aldo Nova goes a guest solo. Even Bolton shreds a little bit, who started off as a guitarist first, singer second. While the album is a great slab of melodic rock, it didn’t really do anything commercially.

But it gave Bolton enough momentum for the label to fund a follow up in “Everybody’s Crazy” (released in 1985) with Bruce Kulick doing all the lead guitars this time around in the studio. However Bolton was still trying to imitate David Lee Roth, which was a stupid move, as there is only one DLR and Bolton wasn’t it. The album was a financial loss and it did not chart.

However, the label didn’t want to lose too much money on the album, so they put Bolton on the road. However this meant a new backing band was needed as Bruce Kulick accepted the Kiss gig, something which he held until 1996. As a side note, Kulick did got his mate Bolton to co-write a song with the band called “Forever” which was released in 1989 on “Hot In The Shade”.

The new backing band for Bolton would have keyboardist Mark Mangold, who was also the co-writer on the “Fools Game” and “Everybody’s Crazy” albums with Bolton. He also co-wrote “I Found Someone” with Bolton for Cher.

The rest came like this.

Al Pitrelli read the credits on the “Everybody’s Crazy” album and noticed that the people who played on the album had other gigs. He called up his friends, Tony Rey, Chuck Bonafante and another bassist. They learnt a bunch of Bolton tunes, tracked down Bolton’s manager and then offered themselves as his touring band. However the bassist spot went to Bruno Ravel who was called in by Bonafante as Bolton took a disliking to the original bassist brought in by Pitrelli.

For Ravel, it was a dream gig for the 21 year old that lasted six months. On a side note, he had a failed bass gig for an act called “White Lion” because he didn’t like how Bratta and Tramp wouldn’t allow anyone else to write with them.

And if all the names in Bolton’s touring band sound familiar they should, as bands like Danger Danger and Saraya come to mind. Tony Rey would go on to write and produce songs for a lot of mainstream artists.

Pitrelli and Bonfante would also get together regularly in different projects like “Place Called Rage” with Tommy Farese on vocals, “Morning Wood” with Tony Harnell on vocals and “Flesh And Blood” which also included Mark Mangold.

Al Pitrelli by this time had dropped out of Berklee College Of Music. During his time there he became friends with keyboardist Derek Sherinian and drummer Will Calhoun who would go on and join Living Colour.

After he left, he was studying jazz with John Scofield. This is a by-product of growing up in a household that liked Sinatra. Pitrelli’s first Kiss album was thrown out by his dad.

But you can’t keep a rock head down. One thing about rock music is that it is a lifestyle. From Kiss, Pitrelli started to digest Rush, Yes, Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, Allman Brothers, Mahogany Rush and Hendrix. Then came Eddie Van Halen, an accomplished riff meister and revolutionary shredder.

But Pitrelli’s two biggest influences are Gary Moore and Jeff Beck. Both of these players can move a room full of people with just one note. And that one note is more powerful than a hundred notes. But if they wanted to shred, press the pedal to the metal, they could do that as well. The key word here is balance. Balance between chops and feel.

Suddenly, Pitrelli was seen as a rising star. The Bolton tour (although regional) was his first big break which gave him contacts within the industry. But as the tour progressed, ticket sales stalled and after six months the tour was wrapped up and the touring band sent home.

Ravel was less than impressed with Bolton’s antics and treatment of them, and Pitrelli saw him as mean. In Bolton’s defence, he was pushing 30 and felt that this was his last chance of making it as a solo artist, so he took it out on the people trying to help him make it.

On a sidenote, Bolton also recorded a tape full of demos with just his voice and an acoustic guitar. These demos started to do the rounds with the label execs who wondered why Bolton was singing rock music when his voice was better suited for soul and R&B.

For all of the members, the Bolton tour was a learning experiencing about survival in the music business. Pitrelli knew that survival and making a living in music, depended on playing with anybody and everybody.

Ravel wanted to have his own band but he knew that in order to get to that stage he needed to play with others to make a living.

Enter Talas.

This band was founded by bassist Billy Sheehan in 1971. They went through drummers like Spinal Tap did.

By 1986, Talas lost their founder to David Lee Roth but Talas still had a deal with A&M Records to do one more record. Sheehan gave the band his blessing to go on and meet this commitment.

Vocalist Phil Naro enlisted Jimmy Degrasso on drums, Al Pitrelli on guitar, Bruno Ravel on bass and Gary Bivona on keyboards.

But that final album never got out of the demo stages and Talas was dead when Sheehan did an about face on allowing the band to use the name after word got around that Ravel wore a “Billy Who?” t-shirt that a fan had gave him.

And since the band couldn’t use the name, A&M pulled their deal as well.

While the guys couldn’t use the Talas name, the embryo of what would become Danger Danger was there.

Pitrelli meanwhile jammed and played on the “Funk Me Tender” album from Randy Coven released in 1986. He also did a small club regional tour with Coven.

And then Jimmy DeGrasso left to join Y&T replacing Leonard Haze.

In 1987, a song originally penned by Pitrelli and Ravel called “Temptation” made its way to Phil Kennemore (via Jimmy DeGrasso) and it became track three on the Y&T album “Contagious” which was the bands Geffen debut. If you haven’t heard it, press play on it. It’s a great melodic rock cut.

The first proper incarnation of Danger Danger would have Al Pitrelli on guitars, Steve West on drums, Bruno Ravel on bass and Kaesy Smith on keyboards. Phil Naro was the first vocalist and he was quickly replaced by Mike Pont and then Pont was replaced that same year by Ted Poley. The demo this version of the band recorded got the band its recording contract with Epic Records.

But by 1988, Pitrelli left Danger Danger or he got the boot, depending on who you believe due to having disagreements with the labels A&R rep.

As Pitrelli described it, he was in the band for about 18 months, played a lot of nickel and dime gigs and when the band made a left turn in musical direction, he went the other way. And by the end of it, Danger Danger taught him lessons on what to never do again.

Pitrelli was replaced by Tony Rey who would also leave to join “Saraya” with Andy Timmons taking the guitar slot from 1989 to 1993. You can hear Pitrelli’s playing in Danger Danger on the album “Rare Cuts” released in 2003.

After this Pitrelli re-formed an earlier band he had called “Hotshot” with Pont on vocals and after a very promising six song demo called “The Bomb” failed to get them a label deal he disbanded “Hotshot”.

Pitrelli then got call from an old friend, another Long Island kid called Steve Vai.

Yep that Steve Vai.

He told Pitrelli to audition for David Lee Roth’s band as Vai had just left to join Whitesnake. Vai actually said that he “wanted Pitrelli to take his place in Roth’s band”. Vai even took time out to teach Pitrelli all the guitar parts. Pitrelli nailed the gig and Roth was thrilled.

But whatever went down afterwards was never spoken of again. Roth to this day has never mentioned the Pitrelli audition of the Roth band at all.

In between, Pitrelli was jamming and writing songs with Joe Lynn Turner. Turner had a deal with Elektra who he would rename as Neglektra.

The label kept Turner in development hell between 1988 and 1991, only to drop him and keep the songs he wrote during this period. Because in label land, it’s embarrassing if an artist you dropped makes it with another label on the backs of the songs they had with the previous label. The same thing happened to Dee Snider during this period who was also with Elektra.

In order to get by, Pitrelli did some session work and one of those sessions got a full release. It was a funk soul album by “Philip Michael Thomas” called “Somebody” which did nothing commercially. Thomas is known more as an actor who dabbled in music.

Pitrelli was at the crossroads. He didn’t know what to do anymore. He was in and out of bands, filling in spots perfectly but really struggling to get his own project off the ground. The lack of a reliable income weighed heavily on him. Trying to make it in the music industry was proving tougher than he thought. He had all the chops and players of lesser abilities graced the covers of the magazines. To make some extra cash he was teaching guitarists. He was also married and a conversation with his father-in-law was about him going into carpentry.

But that jam session with Roth impressed drummer Gregg Bissonette a lot and a few months down the track Bissonette recommended Pitrelli to Alice Cooper.

In 1989, Pitrelli got an offer he couldn’t refuse; to become Alice Cooper’s musical director and guitarist in the touring band supporting the album “Trash”.

Musical director meant to rethink the older songs to sound more contemporary so they wouldn’t sound out of place next to the current songs from the “Trash” album. He also got his Berklee roommate Derek Sherinian his first major gig.

On another side note, the students that Pitrelli had would move on to another guitarist called John Petrucci. Yep that same Petrucci from Dream Theater.

As the 80s drew to a close, Al Pitrelli survived in the music business without actually being involved in a full length release. Because one of the lessons he learnt touring was that the real money was made on the road.

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