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

Michael Poulsen

We all come from different bands, mainly death metal bands and punk bands. So we’ve been in the scene for many years since the ’90s. I released my first demo with my first death metal band in 1991 or something. I also released four albums for a death metal band called Dominus back in the day. My song writing was kind of changing. It turned into be a little bit more rock songs. It seemed like all the inspiration that I had from my parents when they were playing their records from the ’50s got to me in a way that when I was writing, I wanted to include that ’50s feeling in my song writing. That came very naturally. But I just wanted to keep a distorted sound from the guitars and the pounding drums.
Michael Poulsen 

Volbeat started to break into the U.S market in 2010 on the back of their “Death Magnetic” opening slot. But the journey to fame/success or world-wide recognition started a long time ago. Almost 20 years before their U.S breakthrough. It started in a totally different scene and in a different continent.

A million bands will start-up today, however a very small amount will stick it out and become lifers in the game of music. And from the lifers who stick it out, an even smaller amount will end up rising above the noise and get some recognition. And even a smaller amount will make some serious money from it.

It turned into a very unique thing where we combined a lot of different styles. We kept the distorted sound, but you could definitely hear inspiration from a lot of the rock music of the ’50s, as well heavier music from the ’70s and ’80s. When you mix all that together, it becomes Volbeat. We never really branded the band in a certain style or direction. It was all about just playing. I think that led us to being who we are today. For us, it’s not important to be 100% metal or 100% rock ‘n’ roll or anything. It’s music, and we’re inspired by so many different styles and bands. You can hear that in the Volbeat music.
Michael Poulsen 

What an awesome concept!!

To take what came before as influence and use it to create something that is different. And the borrowing from different eras and cultural appropriation is what music is all about.

I also like how it’s seen as “Volbeat’s music” and not some term that came from a record label rep or a magazine editor. For those that don’t know, record companies (in most cases) came up with the terms that bands got labelled with. For example, Nikki Sixx is very vocal on Twitter about how “a record company came up with the derogatory term “hair metal” so they could sell new metal rock to a new generation.

A lot of metal histories try to track back the movement of heavy metal to a single artist. In most cases they pick the artist who had the most success. However like any popular invention, it is a combination of many little things. The first Apple Mac didn’t just come from nowhere without any influences. It was an amalgamation of products from other companies with some new additions and interface tweaks courtesy of Wozniack and Jobs. And music is no different. Music is a combination of influences with a few little tweaks here and there.

When you look at metal history, you don’t see a lot of black musicians listed there as influences, yet the whole metal movement was heavily reliant on the blues in those early formative days. Black Sabbath, the band seen as the first metal band, covered blues songs as Earth. But when you look at the written history of Black Sabbath, the writers talk about the blues of white musicians as influences to Sabbath. They talk about the influence of classical music to Black Sabbath which again is mainly written by white people.

The Beatles played Blues, Soul, Motown and Rock and Roll covers in their early days, made up predominantly of black artists. So did Black Sabbath. Hell, the Beatles even took a Chuck Berry song and called it “Come Together”.

Robert Johnson is cited as a large influence to Keith Richards who was introduced to his music by Brian Jones. Eric Clapton worshipped at the altar of Johnson and many years later, re-recorded all of Johnson’s classics. Howlin Wolf had a lot of songs covered by many white artists across many different genres.

We were sacrificing a lot of stuff in the beginning like jobs, education, girlfriends. Being away from family. And it was just to dedicate ourselves to the road and all the hard work there is to be an active band, to survive. We’re from that generation where we built everything up. There was no internet, no mobiles. It was old-school and I’m very proud of that. That could be part of why we’re still around. We earned our stripes.
Michael Poulsen 
Paying your dues and building up experiences matter. Esepcially when it comes to creativity. The pain of loss manifests itself into art. The happiness of life ends up as a song and so forth.

Today, bands are so eager to get the attention, to get the success, before the work. I’m not a fan of that. I think there are too many youngsters who concentrate too much on the success before they actually concentrate on the music. The music is what it’s all about, and it has to come straight from the heart. We started playing in small bars and it was never because we wanted to be a successful band. We just wanted to do something. We wanted to belong somewhere. Friendship, brotherhood. And it just escalated. Somehow we got bigger and bigger, and the success came. So success was never the important thing for us. It came along and of course it feels good now and we do embrace it. But there’s a lot of stuff we don’t do because we still want it to be about the music. There are lot of TV programs in Denmark where we were getting offers to be on every f—–g day. All the commercials. But we turned it all down because it’s not the reason why we started a band. We’re very aware of not overdoing anything that is Volbeat. We want to be on the road, we want to make records and we want to earn the right to be successful. And we did that from the very beginning. So I can only say that too many young bands concentrate on success before they concentrate on the music. They will fail because that’s not what music is all about.
Michael Poulsen 

We’re living in the social media connection revolution. With so many people connected to each other and everyone building monuments of their lives online, young artists believe success is around the corner. Music is seen as a way to become successful. But if you get in the game with the mindset to be successful over creative, you will not last. Your success is based on your creations. Your success is based on your experiences and your community. It’s easy to license your music to TV shows and Commercials. It’s seen as a way to make easy money for a lot of artists. But then your music turns into a jingle. At least you got paid, right.

A to Z of Making It, Music, My Stories

Talking Bout A Revolution

One of the interesting things I have seen in my time with bands and dealing with other musicians is that they balk at the realization that the career they have chosen involves real work. Musicians from the past complain about having to connect with fans and giving them reasons to buy. As far as they are concerned the music should be sufficient reason alone. And yes, doing all of that connecting does involve such horrible things as having to do actual work or involve other horrible things like actually having to go out and talk to fans.

Music was never for the lazy. Music is not for the people who want everything handed to them. Because one thing that becomes clear as you read/talk to the many success stories in the music world you will always see one simple fact: they work their asses off. That doesn’t mean that all it takes is work, or that if you work hard at things, you’re guaranteed to succeed. There’s nothing that’s ever guaranteed success. But working hard can’t hurt.

I have written countless posts on artists. Some of them achieved worldwide fame for a brief period only to be forgotten today. Some of them achieved cult recognition and are still plying their trades today. Some of them achieved worldwide fame, lost it and then regained it again and then you have the other list of people who haven’t achieved worldwide fame or cult recognition however they have been involved in the music business their whole life. The bottom line is this; if you want to be in music, you need to be a lifer. You only check out when you die.

There is no magic bullet to be successful (and there never was). The point is that if you’re committed, hard-working, good, creative and willing to embrace what fans want and what the technology allows, you have a much better chance of succeeding today than ever before. In the past, the strategy was almost entirely focused on getting “noticed” by a gatekeeper and then hoping that the “gatekeeper” would provide that magic bullet which they rarely did because even they didn’t know what would succeed and connect with audiences.

How many times have you heard the story “If only I was on a bigger label, my debut album would have been considered a masterpiece”. The music business…the game is hard, even if you play to win, oftentimes you lose. And the labels have the cash but they were clueless. They had no idea what would connect and what wouldn’t.

So where does this leave us?

Great music triumphs. It’s easier to make it from left field than ever before and with all the competition, you’ve got to be better than ever. And the beauty about music today is that the acts that are making inroads they have developed completely outside the mainstream. Bands from Sweden and Denmark are perfect examples. Volbeat was a relative unknown in the U.S until their fourth album.

And that is a good revolution.

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

Music Is A Game of Lifers

Look at any artist or band you like and you will notice one important element. They are lifers in the music business. They are the people who have had million dollar highs. They are the people who have had million dollar super lows and losses. They are the same people who have reclaimed those million dollar highs only to see hard times come again. They are the same people who just keep on going, eventually achieving those highs again.

Dee Snider went through a long and drawn-out bankruptcy proceeding after Twisted Sister imploded. This is his big low from the platinum highs of “Stay Hungry” three years earlier. After bankruptcy he was free to make a new record and re-negotiate publishing deals.

The next high came when he signed a high pay deal with Elektra Records for the project that would become Desperado.

The next low started when Dee got that call that Elektra Records had dropped Desperado and shelved the album. That kicked off a process of more lows. Elektra didn’t just drop Desperado, they also prevented Dee from recording for any other label. Basically a record label that claims they are here to protect artists was destroying the career and personal finances of Dee Snider. Dee Snider is a SMF, so he just kept on going, trying to get out the rights to his songs returned to him. He kept on going trying to get the right to license the Desperado record to another label for a fair price. In the end, the only thing that Elektra Records would accept was full reimbursement of the money they’d laid out for the deal—$500,000, or $50,000 per song.

But, but, the record labels are here to protect their artists.

But, but, the record labels are here to negotiate longer copyright terms that will last on average over 120 years because that is the only way they can protect their artists.

The truth is, the record labels are there to make money from the lifers in the music business. It’s that simple.

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

Gene The Werewolf

I just heard the “Rock N Roll Animal” album.

I dig it and I know nothing about them. That is the modern day business model. Back in the Eighties, we got the press releases, the interviews, the promo spots and the musicians appeared larger than life. Today, we just get the music first and then we go back to investigate who the hell created it.

If you are into hard rock, then this is the album for you. If you grew up in the Seventies and enjoyed the British Rock Invasion, then this is the album for you. If you loved what Badlands, Mr Big, Richie Sambora and Lynch Mob did in the late eighties and early nineties then you will love this album as well.

“Wicked Love” channels Led Zeppelin.

“I Only Wanna Rock N Roll” channels AC/DC in a “Long Way To The Top (If You Want To The Rock N Roll)” and “You Shook Me All Night Long” kind of vibe.

“Superhero” reminds me of Kiss seventies era and it’s roots go back to 2009.

“Heart Of Steel” reminds me “Jessies Girl” by Rick Springfield and “Fantasy” from Aldo Nova. Add onto that The Darkness and their break out hit “I Believe In A Thing Called Love”.

“Rock N Roll Animal” has that AC/DC vibe (which is heard across the whole album) however this time it is merged with some vocal melodies from “Bad Medicine” by Bon Jovi and some cool honky-tonk piano.

“I’ve Got The Love” has this Free “All Right Now”, Kiss “Deuce” and Rolling Stones “Start Me Up” vibe. Hell, chuck in “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead” from Bon Jovi as that song borrows from all.

“Ruffneck Woman” has this Aerosmith meets AC/DC vibe.

“Light Me Up” has this “Kings and Queens” by Aerosmith vibe. The harmony lead break sounds perfect.

“Firecracker” brings back the AC/DC vibe again.

“Give It Up” has this melodic rock vibe that I just can’t put my finger on right now.

“The Ballad Of Gene” reminds me of The Beatles (Let It Be), David Bowie (All The Young Dudes and Ziggy era), Aerosmith (Dream On and Livin On The Edge) and Train (Drops Of Jupiter).

Each song has an arena style chorus and by doing that all songs will translate well into the live show and that is what it is all about. How good are you going to rock live?

The whole album is an example of progress being derivative.

Taking your influences, blending them and the output is your style and your sound. That is what music is all about. The whole album reminds me of “The Night Flight Orchestra” project. It is a fun album to listen to.

I did some searches on Google for them.

Of course they are on Frontiers Records, who seem to be on a roll surrounding themselves with talent. At first hearing, I thought the band came from Sweden as most of the hard rock bands I have been getting into are from there. However, that is not the case. They are from Pittsburgh, USA.

It is the usual lifer story.

All of the members had done time in previous semi-successful bands from the Pittsburgh area. Some of those bands toured nationally and internationally. There is a lot of history there. A super group from Pittsburgh area bands. In a way like “Night Ranger”. A super group of Californian bands.

And it doesn’t end just there.

Another Pittsburgh native, Reb Beach from Winger/Whitesnake has “The Reb Beach Project” band happening and of course, Jon Belin (aka Gene The Werewolf) is singing all the Winger/Whitesnake songs like a pro.

Also another classic touch is the re-use of songs. The current music business is littered with bands releasing new music constantly. There is a very good chance that a lot of those songs just don’t get heard. It’s not because they are bad songs, it’s just there are too many songs out there and so little time.

The first EP released in 2009, had the songs “Superhero”, “Light Me Up”, “I’ve Got The Love” and “Make Love” that all ended up on the “Rock N Roll Animal” album.

Then the “Wicked Love” album that was released in 2011, had the songs “Wicked Love”, “I Only Wanna Rock N Roll”, “Heart Of Steel”, “Rock N Roll Animal”, “Ruffneck Woman”, “Firecracker”, “Give It Up” and “The Ballad Of Gene”.

So in 2012, all of those songs from 2009 to 2011 ended up on the “Rock N Roll Animal” album.

Because you know, traction comes much slower than expected. Even after a band has a deal. As the saying goes, it is all work with very little reward for a very long time. In other words, if you’re not prepared to be a lifer, then don’t be a musician. Because as soon as you open one door, another one looms large.


Randy Jackson from Zebra

No, not the American Idol judge. Randy Jackson from the band Zebra. He does Robert Plant better than Robert Plant!

It was Dream Theater’s cover of their song “Take Your Fingers From My Hair” in 2009 that re-awakened my interest in Zebra. Isn’t it funny how a cover song brings back the original song and the band into the psyche. Something that Jon Bon Jovi doesn’t have the foresight for, as he thought tooth and nail to stop Shinedown covering “Wanted Dead or Alive”, believing that Shinedown’s cover song would take away income from the Bon Jovi original.

In an interview with The Great Southern Brainfart Randy Jackson was asked how did he feel about Dream Theater’s version and has Zebra seen a new horde of young fans because of it.

“Certainly. A lot of people who were unaware of Zebra were definitely made aware of us by Dream Theater doing that cover. We were really flattered that they did it. They stuck to the original version but added their own touch to it so I thought they did a great job with the song. I really liked it.”

Jackson founded Zebra in 1975. They had a very large following before their first record ever came out in 1983 on Atlantic Records. Like most bands in the later part of the Seventies and the early part of their Eighties, most of their fan base had been developed from their live shows.

In addition, the majority of the bands had been slugging it out for a decent time in the clubs before getting their recording contract. Look at Twisted Sister. How many artists today are prepared to put in 8 years of hard work before they actually get a chance to record. The answer is NONE. Artists today record straight away, release it and expect something to happen. They might do it that for a few years and when nothing happens 90% of those artists would walk away. The 10% that continue are the ones that become lifers.

The follow-up album “No Tellin Lies” in 1984 stalled in the U.S and by 1986, their 3.V album wasn’t even noticed and Atlantic dropped them.

Zebra should have toured Europe after the second record got released, instead they stayed in the U.S and as Randy has said in a few interviews, it was probably their worst decision ever made. Maybe they never should have released the second album. As with all things in the music business, once a band has an unexpected hit, they are put under serious pressure to release a follow-up.

Zebra fell into this category, pressured and rushed to get album number 2 out. The label also didn’t ball in the promotion game. The fan base of Zebra was still in New York and Louisiana and that is where the promotion efforts should have been focused on. A lot of Zebra’s hard core fans didn’t even know that they had album number 2 out. .

As history would have it, they put out their second album and went on tour with “REO Speedwagon” and “Sammy Hagar” during 1984. Air play for the new album was not a lot compared to the self-titled album, so after the US tours, the band had to go back in and record album number 3.

This was February 1985. As Randy Jackson was writing the third album they also looked for a producer. The band couldn’t come up with anybody. For five months the band was in limbo. It wasn’t until December 1985 that the band hit the studio for album number 3. That was a false start and the band went back into pre-production to work on the material. Finally in February 1986 they went into the studio and stayed there until August of the same year. By then it was all over.

If Atlantic was hanging out Twisted Sister to dry, what did that mean for a band like Zebra?

The album “3.V” just died. Radio ignored it. The week that it was released was the same week that Bruce Springsteen released his live box set. Three months earlier, Bon Jovi released “Slippery When Wet” and that album was picking up some serious momentum by November 1986, Europe’s “The Final Countdown” had broken world-wide as well. Radio put them in constant circulation.

The press didn’t want to give Zebra the time of day as “The Boss”, Bon Jovi and Europe became the darlings at that time. At this time as well, a lot of the radio program directors weren’t in charge of the play lists anymore and this really Zebra because back in 1986, bands really need airplay in order to get record sales. In addition, another program called MTV also ignored the band.

While most people would know Zebra by the songs “Tell Me What You Want” which Randy wrote it 1978 at 6:30 am after a gig at “Speaks” (New York) and “Who’s Behind the Door” that deal with the big questions about life there are other songs to sink your teeth into. There is the “Yes” inspired “The La-La Song”, “Take Your Fingers From My Hair”, “Lullaby”, “Time”, “Hard Living Without You”, “But No More” and “One More Chance”.

Then it was over. China Rain never got a fair shake. Randy Jackson finished the China Rain record in 1990 and Atlantic Records decided not to release it. Sound familiar. Gatekeepers controlling the fate of musicians. Dee Snider suffered the same fate with his “Desperado” project.

From 1992 to 1996, Randy was involved in the development of an interactive musical instrument called “The Key”. The instrument allowed anyone to play a guitar-like instrument (The Key) along with videos or CDs.

“Zebra IV” started recording in 1996. The drums were done in a week in 1996 and the rest of the album was done sporadically after that. In a MelodicRock.com interview, Randy said it was “a good 9 months of actual studio time but spread over a period of 7 years”.

The album didn’t see the light of day until 2003.

Throughout the Nineties, Randy built up his acoustic shows. Nobody wanted to book him in the beginning, even his trusted agents in New Orleans who had booked Zebra for 20 years rejected him. Now he is playing places like Japan and criss crossing the US and he hasn’t even put out a recording of the acoustic project. Yep, while labels and artist still believe it is about the album, here is Randy Jackson delivering a show that is spreading via word of mouth.

The same major labels who have been scared to search out and develop new music and bands. The rock that kids listen to today is the rock that we listened to growing up. Record execs are so afraid of losing their jobs that they wouldn’t think of trying something new. All they want is for their profits to sustain or get better, because in the corporate world that we live in today, everyone is replaceable.

In between Randy did “The Sign”, a melodic rock supergroup. He also handles the vocals for the wildly successful Symphonic Music shows of Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and Eagles performing to packed houses across the country (from 1996).

He is a lifer in the music business. Prepared to do what he needs to do to get. He is 38 years deep in his music career. He didn’t get the fame that other bands did, however it didn’t mean he didn’t have success.