Music, My Stories

The Game Of Rock Stars Claimed Vito Bratta

“I didn’t like them, and they didn’t like me!” said White Lion’s guitarist Vito Bratta as he tried to explain why bassist James Lomenzo and drummer Greg D’Angelo abruptly left the band at the end of their European tour.

“We didn’t fight – it was like me and Mike were a separate band from the two of them.”

Within four days they had recruited bass player Tommy T-Bone’ Caradonna – a veteran of Lita Ford and Alice Cooper’s backing bands – and drummer Jimmy DeGrasso, formerly with Y&T.

“The way it is now,” Vito said excitedly, “there’s so much attitude it’s scary to me.” 

The above was printed in the Hot Metal September 1991 issue.

When White Lion departed with bassist James Lomenzo and drummer Greg D’Angleo in 1991, a lot of people saw it as the end for the band.

A change was coming in the musical climate.

The record labels didn’t have no moral obligation to keep their hard rock rosters in tact. The only obligation they have is to the shareholders and their bottom line.

So with every major label signing bands from Seattle, the poor old hard rock bands that made the labels billions over the last 10 years suddenly disappeared. White Lion was one of them. The label never dropped them, however in my mind they would have dropped them eventually if the band stayed together.

White Lion finished up because Vito Bratta became conflicted. Disillusioned.

The recording business in 1989 was not interested in originality or allowing artists free reign in the song writing process, even though it would have made the record label more money in the long-term. The recording business only cared about short-term income and total control. So you have two entities trying to do business with each other and of course, their goals are not aligned.

Vito was never afraid to make observations about the bands exploding on the scene. He made various comments in Guitar magazines and rock magazines, about the sad state of guitar playing and how the song ceased to matter.

Vito wanted longevity and he didn’t like how White Lion was seen as part of the same movement of bands that he was commenting about. He was an artist competing in a game of rock stars. He was an artist competing in a game of profits. With each game, there is a winner and a loser.

By 1991, every artist needed a hit to get recognition. The album format was already dead due to MTV playing the “HIT” video. If a band had a hit single then people were interested in buying the album to see what that band is all about. This is Vito’s disillusionment. When he made an appearance on the Eddie Trunk show, he said words to the effect like “how do you write a hit single” when he was talking about Big Game, the following up to Pride.

Vito should have trusted himself and pushed the songs that connect with him. We are drawn to emotion. We all want to be touched. Trust your heart. White Lion was never a band that played the singles game, however the industry forced them into it and their main musical songwriter started to second guess himself.

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Metallica: Hot Metal – June 1992, the “Through The Never” Stage Idea Goes Back To This Period and Staying Power

I have been re-reading a lot of the magazines I have accumulated during the Eighties and the Nineties. I just finished reading a story about Metallica from the Australian magazine “Hot Metal”. It is the June 1992 issue.

The article is written by Robyn Doreian, who was the editor once however when this story hit the press, she had moved on to Metal Hammer. The story was a combination of two days she spent with the band, plus separate interviews with James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich.

The first part that got me interested was the following answers from James Hetfield;

RD – First up, I ask him about the new stage design, which not only challenges conventional rock shows but also has consider-able advantages for the fans.

JH – “We sat down and talked about what we wanted to do. For instance, Lars has his travelling drum kit that was all his thing. I have to make that clear,” he scoffs, “because I find it a little silly. As much as he wants to be in the spotlight, he also gets to travel. He’s basically a front man on drums. We should have thought of it earlier in our careers, I guess.”

“The snake-pit was a combination of ideas from band members and management. Initially that hole in the middle of the stage was meant to be a special effects area, with things like little crosses rising up, or a blow-up ‘Justice’ lady or something.” sniggers Hetfield.

“We said no’ Why not put some kids in there, some fans. That would be cool. We usually put between 40 and 90 kids in there, depending on each city’s fire regulations and stuff.”

RD – What about the area set aside for taping?

JH – “Fans have to buy a special ticket for the tape section. It’s like five bucks more, and there are like 20 or 30 kids who can get in there and video, audio or whatever they want to do. It’s a cool thing to do, to flood the market with bootlegs. And it makes it a little more personal.”

The above got my interest for two reasons;

1. The stage design.
2. Bootlegs.

First, the stage design. The grand stage design that is seen in the movie “Through the Never” was conceived back in 1991 for the tour in support of the Black album. Of course, an idea is just an idea until it is executed and with the exponential rise of technologies, that idea finally came to fruition in 2012.

The point of this is that no one should ever give up on an idea. If it doesn’t work at a particular given point in time, keep it filed away as it could work at a later time.

Second, the bootlegs. The Black tour did something great for the hard core fans that no other band had really done up until then.

Metallica in 1992, wanted to flood the market with bootlegs. Metallica in 2013 has the following disclaimer on their Live Metallica website “Terms of Use”;

Any violation of copyright laws may result in severe civil and criminal penalties. Violators will be prosecuted to the maximum extent possible.

Compare the above to the comments from Hetfield. What a difference between Metallica and the Metallicorporation? This is why Metallica messed up big time with Napster by handing over names of fans at the Senate Hearings.

Next up in the interview was Lars Ulrich. Knowing what we know now, words from the past is always interesting.

RD – Seizing the opportunity I ask him whether, seeing as Metallica have now been so firmly embraced by the mainstream, it’s possible that they are becoming what they once rebelled against.

LU – “I don’t disagree with that, but we were always more into doing our own thing, never about being shocking for its own sake or pissing people off. You should always be yourself.”

Lars admits that he and Metallica are becoming the entity that they rebelled against. Is there anything wrong with that? Of course not. Can a band remain the same after they accumulate millions? No chance.

RD – Do you ever think that in years to come there is a danger of Metallica being viewed as a dinosaur band, some sort of corporate rock giant similar to what happened to bands like Zeppelin in the 70s?

LU – “I think there are a lot of people in the States right now who, simply because we have gained confidence in what we’re doing, are saying that we are doing the same arena rock clichés that these other bands were doing. My attitude is basically that if people come and see us and think its arena rock crap then that’s fine. It doesn’t affect me; because I know what we’re doing is distinctly different from what everyone else is doing.”

RD – With Grammy awards, cumulative record sales in the millions and adulation the whole world over, what is there left for the band to achieve?

LU – “Staying power. In terms of numbers, it’s not going to get much bigger but its important not to burn out. A lot of bands don’t have the confidence for a long term career, so they try and milk everything while they can. We plan to be around for quite a while, so when this tour is over we’re going to have a long period of inactivity.”

The above is interesting to me for the following two reasons;

1. Be Yourself / Stay true to yourself
2. Staying Power

I was a fan of Metallica coming before the Black album came out. It was “Ride the Lightning” that did it for me. I cannot recall how many arguments I got into over what is the better album between “Master Of Puppets” and “Ride The Lightning”.

Then the Black album comes out and I really liked it. I thought it was perfect. The songs hammered the ear drums from start to finish and the groove was undeniable. Metallica wrote and recorded an album that they wanted to write. It was never designed to have a hit single whereas “Load” and “Reload” to me, feels like Metallica had that single idea in the backs of their mind.

The comments about staying power ring true. As Lars said, in terms of numbers, it wouldn’t get any bigger than the Black album. However reaching the top is not the end of the journey. That is when a new journey begins.

Twisted Sister failed after “Stay Hungry” exploded.

Motley Crue fired Vince Neil after “Dr Feelgood”.

Guns N Roses became Adler-less after “Appetite for Destruction” and after “Use Your Illusion,” Guns N Roses became an Axl Rose solo project.

Motorhead had Fast Eddie Clarke play on one more album (“Iron Fist”) after “Ace of Spades.”

Skid Row got one more album out in “Subhuman Race” after the massive “Slave To The Grind” and disappeared.

Van Halen released “1984” and then fired David Lee Roth. They are one of the rare bands that changed lead singers and went on to bigger success, with the Van Hager era.

Poison got “Flesh and Blood” out after the mega successful “Open and Say Ahh” and it was curtains, even though “Native Tongue” with Richie Kotzen was a great album.

White Lion never recovered from the mega success of “Pride”.

Warrant released the excellent and heavy “Dog Eat Dog”, however it was no “Cherry Pie” and they got dropped after Jani Lane left.

Also when a band reaches the top, it opens up the opportunity for some time off. Metallica had been on an album and tour cycle since “Kill Em All” was released in 1983. After 11 constant years, by 1994, they had some time off, before they regrouped for the “Load” albums.

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It’s A Long Way To The Top (If You Don’t Have The Grit To Rock N Roll)

I just finished reading a “Wall Street Journal” article that had a section about Angela Lee Duckworth, about how “GRIT TRUMPS TALENT” and the GRIT scale that she designed.

Grit means the passion and perseverance for long-term goals. In other words, the grittiest person will end up achieving much more than the talented person who doesn’t exhibit any grit. The career of an aritst is all about the taking risks, putting it all on the line and on occasion experiencing defeat. Add to that mix, “GRIT”.

So in every facet of our lives we will face a person that has super talent and grit. We will face a person who possess some talent, but a lot of grit. Finally, we will face a person who has no talent and no grit.

When I think of GRIT, I think of Mick Mars and Twisted Sister.

Starting off with Mick Mars.

Was he supremely talented? No.

Did he have the GRIT? Hell yeah.

Just think about it for a moment. Mick Mars started off doing the band circuit around 1971 and it was 11 years later when Motley Crue got picked up Elektra. Then came the shred era with the release of Yngwie Malmsteen’s “Rising Force” in 1983 and poor old Mick Mars was blasted by the new guitar fans of the movement.

He was too sloppy, he was too old, he was too slow, he wasn’t technical enough and it just went on and on. The last laugh is being had by Mick Mars. He is still around. Regardless of what you think about Motley Crue, or the band members within, one thing they do have is GRIT.

Let’s look at Twisted Sister, the best bar band doing the tri-state scene. For Jay Jay French, it was a long way to the top. He started off Twisted Sister in 1972. Dee Snider joined in 1976. The band came to world-wide attention in 1983, with the release of “You Can’t Stop Rock N Roll” and the follow-up “Stay Hungry” in 1984.

Was Twisted Sister the most talented heavy metal band doing the rounds at this time? Of course not.

Did Twisted Sister have the grit to make it? Hell Yeah.

One could argue that the band ceased to be in 1987, so what happened to the GRIT? It lived on with Dee Snider. Regardless of the success of his post Twisted Sister bands, Dee Snider continued to battle it out. He never gave up.

Looking at some other artists, I immediately think of Vito Bratta from White Lion.

Vito Bratta is a favourite of mine and a massive influence. He is a supremely talented guitarist and songwriter, however with his exile from the music business since 1992, it looks like he just didn’t have the GRIT.

Mike Tramp on the other hand, has the GRIT (Freaks Of Nature, a new version of White Lion, plus a tonne of solo releases), but without Vito, he doesn’t have the talent in the compositions.

Jake E. Lee is another favourite of mine that has sort of disappeared from the public conversation. A very talented musician, who got the boot from Ozzy Osbourne because he couldn’t agree with Sharon Osbourne over the publishing rights of Ozzy’s music. So he goes on to form Badlands with Ray Gillen (RIP) and they release two excellent albums before calling it a day with ego tantrums and arguments.

Is Jake E. Lee talented? Of course

Does he have any GRIT? I am going to answer YES on this one. Since the end of Badlands, Jake E Lee has gone on to appear on a lot of tribute albums, along with a few solo releases and a couple of projects that he demoed songs with. The bottom line is, he never really stopped creating.

Currently, he is recording songs for a new project called Jake E. Lee’s Red Dragon Cartel.

To finish off, the immortal words of Bon Scott (RIP) from AC/DC;

Gettin’ had
Gettin’ took
I tell you folks
It’s harder than it looks

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Alternate Reality, Copyright, Music, My Stories, Piracy, Stupidity, Treating Fans Like Shit

Piracy Was Rampant Even In The Eighties

Back in the Eighties, piracy was rampant. Most of my music collection during that period was made up of music taped onto blank cassettes. My “wealthier” older cousin in Sydney always seemed to have his finger on the pulse on the latest releases and every time I visited, I was armed with blank cassettes and proceeded to copy (download) albums that he recommended to me. There was also another shadier character locally that used to sell dubbed cassettes from 50 cents to $1 dollar. He then used the money obtained from his buyers to purchase more albums that he would sell to us on dubbed cassettes.

I was not alone in doing this, nor was I the first. Most of the music from the seventies that was passed down to me by my brothers was in the same format (blank cassettes that got filled with music).

So what did my brothers do in the Eighties, when they were old enough and had their own incomes. They started purchasing the music they listened to in the seventies. It worked like this; for example, they would purchase “Destroyer” from Kiss on LP or CD and once they did that I would get the cassette copied version that they had.

Another interesting thing in the Seventies was that while we all lived together, we only needed one version of the album to listen to the music. So what happens when family members move out. One brother purchases the album, the other brother purchases the album and then I need to purchase the album and so on. You can see the exponential growth here when children grow up and move out.

So what did I do in the Nineties, when I had more cash at hand. I purchased every album I had on dubbed cassettes on CD. I re-purchased every LP I had on CD. I went to second hand record shops and purchased LP’s from the Eighties and Seventies very cheap. If I found a real gem in those purchases, I then purchased that album on CD.

I went to the Record Fairs and Collector Fairs that started to gain traction during this period. Again, I purchased a lot of LP’s very cheap at those Fairs. I saw it as a try before you buy. If I found a real gem, I then purchased that album on CD.

I was not the only one that did the above. Based on sales figures during this period, the Record Labels had their largest ever profits to date. Everything that came after 1999 has been linked back to the unbelievable profits the record labels made during 1998 and 1999.

In the end, did all the piracy from the Seventies and Eighties hurt any of the bands that I supported. These are the bands that where pirated heavily on cassettes (from a list of the shady dealer selling them for 50 cents to $1 dollar);

Motley Crue
Bon Jovi
Iron Maiden
Metallica
Megadeth
Guns N Roses
Van Halen
David Lee Roth
Poison
Warrant
Skid Row
Twisted Sister
Kiss
Dio
Europe
Def Leppard
Dokken
Whitesnake
Judas Priest
Yngwie Malmsteen
Night Ranger
Queensryche
Ozzy Osbourne
Rush
Savatage
Stryper
Scorpions
WASP
Y&T
White Lion
Fastway
Joe Satriani
Loverboy
Meatloaf
Queen
Slayer
Survivor
UFO
Michael Schenker
Quiet Riot
Black Sabbath
Rainbow
Deep Purple
Anthrax
Motorhead

The answer is a resounding NO. All of those bands mentioned above are still around today in some form or another. All of those bands are part of pop culture in some form or another. They still have a loyal cult following and that cult following happened because of piracy.

If it wasn’t for cassette piracy, I never would have heard the full length albums of bands that did the rounds on MTV. I never would have heard “Master Of Puppets” from Metallica (I know own “Master Of Puppets” on CD, mp3 and LP).

The real hurter of bands was the Record Label. It was never piracy. Due to the labels having all the power in breaking a band, plus having all the control over the distribution, they would offer bands an unfair deal that stacked the deck in the Record Labels favour. For any musician that wanted their music exposed to a greater audience, it was the only option they had.

A lot of studies have come out stating that “pirates actually purchase the most.” I know it is a cliché statement at the moment however back in the Eighties I went to an Iron Maiden concert without actually owning an original copy of any of their albums. I went to a Megadeth concert without owning an original copy of their albums. The same with Bon Jovi, David Lee Roth, Guns N Roses and Stryper.

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1986 vs 2013

BON JOVI

In 1986, Jon Bon Jovi was all about the music. He was in debt to his record label and still living with his parents. The “band” Bon Jovi released their biggest seller, Slippery When Wet.

Now, Jon Bon Jovi is all about the money. The band Bon Jovi released their biggest dud, in What About Now, Richie Sambora has been booted because of money and Jon Bon Jovi cancelled a New York Fair concert for an intimate Government concert that paid more.

 

BLACK SABBATH/OZZY OSBOURNE

In 1986, Black Sabbath released Seventh Star with Glenn Hughes on vocals and Ozzy Osbourne released The Ultimate Sin.

Seventh Star was originally intended to be the first solo album by Iommi, but due to pressures by Warner Bros. Records and the prompting of band manager Don Arden, the record was billed as Black Sabbath featuring Tony Iommi.

The Ultimate Sin featured songwriting contributions from Bob Daisley and Phil Soussan, however due to Sharon Osbourne (Arden) trying to keep as much money as possible in Ozzy’s corner, Bob Daisley was not credited on the initial release and Phil Soussan had an accounting disagreement with Sharon. Everyone got shafted by an Arden.

In 2013, Black Sabbath released 13, their first album with Ozzy since 1978, that also featured the talents of Rage Against The Machine drummer Brad Wilk. Bill Ward said he would not participate until he was offered a “signable contract.” One B.W is out and another B.W is in. Again, someone was shafted by an Arden.

RECORD LABELS

The major labels wanted their artists to have careers. They spent a lot of money to convince the public that they should pay attention to their new artist or the latest release of an existing artist.

The marketing was from the label down to the streets. The labels had so much power and they set the bar. Either a band was signed to a label or they didn’t matter. Major labels were plentiful and the most powerful person in the music business was the Record Label head. Artists could live off the money from their record deal as people had to buy the expensive record to listen to it. Because it was expensive, we played it over and over and over again and eventually became a fan.

Now the marketing is from the streets and the record labels want the hit singles. They have shareholders to please, a board to please and all the label heads are interested in bonuses and short term profits. There is no long term vision anymore as the Record Labels do not have the same power.

The major labels have been reduced to 3, with Sony, Universal and Warner Bros.

In 1986, record companies were cool. In 2013, HBO, Netflix, Showtime, Facebook, Apple, Samsung, Twitter and Amazon are cool. 

 

LIVE

In 1986, all the acts did the arena and stadium tours because demand was high. If a band opened for a major act, they believed they had made it. The public discovered new acts when those acts opened up for our favourite bands. Look at the list below;

Metallica and Ratt opened up for Ozzy Osbourne.

Anthrax opened up for Metallica.

Marillion opened up for Rush.

 

Loverboy opened up for Van Halen.

King Kobra, White Lion and W.A.S.P opened up for Kiss.

 

W.A.S.P also opened up for Iron Maiden.

Cinderella opened up for Bon Jovi in the U.S and Queensryche opened up for Bon Jovi in Europe.

 

Queensryche also opened up for AC/DC.

Cinderella also opened up for David Lee Roth.

Honeymoon Suite and Glass Tiger opened up for Journey.

Dokken opened up for Accept.

Keel opened up for Dio.

Krokus opened up for Judas Priest.

Now only the classic rock acts of the Seventies and Eighties can sell out the arenas and the few modern superstars. The majority of acts play the club circuit. If bands have a small hard core fan base, they can raise enough money to make an album and own everything about themselves. No one cares who the opening band is.

RANDY JACKSON

In 1986, he played bass with Journey. He appeared on the Raised on Radio album and also toured with them. People judged him on his abilities.

In 2013, he is a judge on American Idol.

CHARTS

Back in 1986, the charts meant everything and albums sold in double digit millions. Slippery When Wet from Bon Jovi went to Number 1 for 1 week in October and then it re-appeared at number 1 for 7 weeks in 1987.

Now the charts are useless and artists are lucky to sell a million units. There are a few, like Adele that go into double digits. Bon Jovi’s What About Now went to Number 1 for 1 week and it didn’t reappear again.

ANTHEMS OF A GENERATION

In 1986, we had Addicted To Love from Robert Palmer, Sledgehammer from Peter Gabriel, Dreams from Van Halen, Livin On A Prayer and Wanted Dead Or Alive from Bon Jovi, Peace Sells from Megadeth, Battery from Metallica, Raining Blood from Slayer and The Final Countdown from Europe.

In 2013, nothing lasts.

THE MUSIC BUSINESS 

In 1986, it was all about the music and if a band was all over traditional media, it meant they had traction and that people would be hearing their music.

Now, our favourite bands are playing to the masses who just don’t care and now it is all about marketing. Look at the marketing campaign for the new Dream Theater album. It looks like the label is trying to monetize every little bit of it. If a band is all over traditional media, it doesn’t mean that they have traction and it doesn’t mean that people have heard their music.

In 1986, everything was expensive and the cost of music was different at every store. Due to the high prices of music, everybody had a little bit of it. We had to buy it to hear it, or we used to tape it of someone who purchased it.

Now, music costs the same everywhere, and it’s cheap and everybody has more than they want. Music is available to hear for free, whether on YouTube or streaming music services like Spotify.

In 1986, albums from our favourite artists would normally come out every two years. Due to this lack of new material, music was scarce, so when we purchased albums we played them to death. We became fans by over playing the music we purchased as it was all about the music.

Now, music is released constantly and it is plentiful. Due to these riches of new material, we don’t spend as much time with the albums we purchased. We become fans by looking for the song that grabs our attention on the first listen.

LADY GAGA

In 1986, Lady Gaga was born. In 2013, Lady Gaga is just Born This Way.

METALLICA

In 1986, Metallica released Master of Puppets and lost bass player Cliff Burton in a bus accident while on tour.

In 2013, Metallica will be released Through The Never a live/concert film and will be losing a lot of money when it doesn’t set the world on fire.

MEGADETH

In 1986, Megadeth released Peace Sells.. But Who’s Buying, which in their case, everyone was buying.

In 2013, Megadeth released Supercollider and no one was buying.

KISS

In 1986, Gene Simmons from Kiss produced and co-wrote songs for the Black N Blue album, Nasty Nasty, that had a certain Tommy Thayer on guitars.

In 2013, Kiss released Monster, that has Tommy Thayer on guitars, as well as lead vocals on one song and a major co-writer of material.

STRYPER

In 1986, Stryper released To Hell With The Devil.

In 2013, Styper will release No More Hell To Pay. It looks they still have hell on their minds.

SLAYER

In 1986, Slayer reigned in blood.

In 2013, Jeff Hanneman’s reign ended. RIP.

QUEENSRYCHE

In 1986, Queensryche was one band that released the a superior album in Rage For Order.

In 2013, Queensryche are two seperate bands that ended up releasing two inferior albums in Frequency Unknown(Geoff Tate version) and Queensryche (Todd LaTorre version).

The fans are screaming for order.

CINDERELLA 

In 1986, Cinderella released Night Songs and proved to the world that they are nobody’s fool.

In 2013, Tom Keifer the singer from Cinderella released The Way Life Goes, an album 9 years in the making with a song called Fools Paradise.

VINNIE VINCENT

In 1986, Vinnie Vincent invaded the charts, with a point to prove.

In 2013, Vinnie Vincent is …..

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Influenced, Music, My Stories

The Enigma That Is Vito Bratta – Will He Write New Music?

It’s 1991 and Vito Bratta is doing the rounds for the Mane Attraction album. White
Lion needed Mane Attraction to be rock solid, as the previous effort Big Game was classed as a disappointment by fans and critics. In order to understand the pressure that Vito placed on himself, we need to go back to 1989. This is what Vito Bratta said in the June 1989 issue of Kerrang magazine.

“I hate recording. I can’t stand it. I cant stand the pressures of writing and recording a record. If they told me tomorrow that i was going to go out on tour for fives years, i’d say, fine, i love it. Playing every night is what i love.” 

When Vito did the Eddie Trunk show in 2007, he had this to say about the expectations placed on them by the Record Label;

“So the record company’s saying we need another Pride.  I say, Ok, so what exactly does that mean?  The label goes we need the hit singles… I go listen the songs we gave you, on “Pride” weren’t hit singles written purposely to be to be hit singles. They were just songs that became hit singles and they were just songs we wrote.  Now you’ve got somebody telling you now you have to purposely write a hit single.  Now how do you do that?  How do you purposely write a hit single, I mean there are people out there that do that…”

It is clear that Vito hated this extra pressure layer that now existed in White Lion. So for Mane Attraction, Vito and singer Mike Tramp locked themselves in a small apartment and held marathon writing sessions. The idea was to escape all the distractions of managers, record labels and MTV.

In a Guitar World interview from the June 1991, Brad Tolinski asked Vito if Mane Attraction was difficult to make.

“In a way it was.  It was the first time I ever felt real pressure. When we recorded
our first record, Fight To Survive, we were real naive and just happy to have a deal. Our next record, Pride, was also very relaxed. It was written over a period of three years, so we had plenty of time to compose and experiment. Pride went double platinum, which was both good and bad. When we went to record the follow-up. Big Game, everyone told us, “Don’t worry, whatever you write will sell a million.” 

The feeling was too good on Big Game, and I think the album was soft. There wasn’t
any real fire or hunger on that record. We were playing arenas, getting big checks in the mail, getting calls that we were going platinum, and so on. The vibe was too relaxed and it showed. On top of that, we had convinced ourselves that we had to write hit singles in order to maintain our popularity, and in the end. Big Game was too contrived. It didn’t sell as well as Pride, because people knew something was lacking. It was a valuable lesson to learn. 

White Lion and Dream Theater had similar time frames for their breakthrough second albums. When you have time to fine tune the arrangements without any pressure, greatness will ensure.

So the buzz from Pride is dying down and the label wants another album. They tell the band that whatever they write, it will sell millions. It was a false reality. To me Big Game is a good progression from Pride, however I understand the comments that Vito made about the album and how the songs didn’t translate will in the live arena. In the end, all rock bands are live performers. This is what Vito had to say on the Eddie Trunk show;

““Big Game” was a setback for the Label. It didn’t sell as many. We were doing a headlining tour of Europe by ourselves for the Big Game album and they (the Label) said, “wouldn’t it be great if we played at Wembley with Motley Crue and Skid Row?” 

Skid Row went on and they were just killing the place. And Motley Crue had a great show and here we are sandwiched in between.

We realized, that night, on stage at Wembley that these songs from the Big Game album aren’t translating well in the live show because when you’ve got tens of thousands of angry British rockers out in the audience and if you don’t have a certain type of music; it just wasn’t working. So we all looked at each other on stage and said we need to throw in some of our better stuff in here. I was like what better stuff. We need to write more for who we are because these songs are not translating.  

Then we went back to the States and we told the record label, no more tours on this album.  We are going to do the album that we want to do.  And they said well considering how the last album went, they said “go ahead”.  They gave us unlimited funds.  Mane Attraction was a half a million dollar record.  They just said go and do everything that you want.”  

In the same June 1991, Guitar World interview, Vito goes onto say that the real pressure on Mane Attraction didn’t come from trying to write hit singles, but from wanting to find their original source of motivation and creativity.

“By coincidence we write songs that can be singles, because we’re still big fans of bands like Boston and Journey. But we wanted to let that other side through, the more experimental side that his its roots in music by Robin Trower, Frank Marino and Rush.

Right when we were finishing this album, the record company came to us and said, “Can you guys write another single for us?” Mike and I got so crazy that we wrote “The Warsong,” which is about as far away from a single as you can get. “

Vito put everything he had into Mane Attraction. He believed in it. He created the songs that he wanted to create. He made it clear that the band’s creativity wasn’t stifled in any way by the record label. So when it failed to connect with a large audience, I believe he threw his hands up in the air and just gave up. There was nothing more that he could give.

Going back to Vito’s comment about trying to recapture the original source of motivation and creativity.

When bands come out with ground breaking albums, they do so because of motivation. Motley Crue got sober and detached themselves from the LA scene, by moving to Vancouver. They were motivated to make a big statement. The end result was Dr Feelgood.

Metallica had a reputation as a live band and they were motivated to make an album that captured that live energy. The end result was the biggest Soundscan album.

I am not sure that music is the same if you’re popular. With success and money, comes baggage. The baggage adds an extra layer of pressures.

Music was once everything to Vito and somehow music become a pressurized boiler room that he couldn’t stand anymore.

That is why I don’t believe that Vito will write any new music. 

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Vito Bratta – He made it just to walk away

He was born in 1961.  He formed White Lion in 1983, with Mike Tramp.  He was 22 years old at the time.

Before White Lion he was in Dreamer from 1980 to 1983, a band that featured future Tyketto drummer Michael Clayton.  White Lion came to be in the following way as told by Mike Tramp in Rockeyez;

As I mentioned above, MABEL had turned into STUDS and played hard rock, I had become the leader and we went to the States and became LION. In November ’82, we played L’amour’s with DREAMER, which was Vito’s band. People started talking that he and I should play together. When Lion ended its reign in December and went back to Denmark. I returned to NYC in March and looked up Vito. The rest is history.

White Lion picked up a deal, got dropped and then released the Fight To Survive album independently in 1985.  It wasn’t until 1987 that people noticed White Lion and the talents of Vito.   The Pride album was massive.  The tour that followed, opening up for AC/DC was even bigger.

It was seven years playing in bands, before the world took notice of Vito’s abilities.

If any young guitarist or songwriter is looking to have a career in the music business, you need to be ready to put in the time.  Don’t be fooled by The Voice, Idol and XFactor.  Those shows are all about ratings and the now.  The term artist, career and longevity do not exist in these shows.  The ones that end up making it, don’t even win.

Big Game followed in 1989 and Mane Attraction in 1991.

The label gave them a big advance for Mane Attraction.  White Lion delivered with a killer album.

The label didn’t know how to market it.

An audience still existed for White Lion music.  The Hard Rock or Glam Rock movement, became a niche market, replacing the position that Grunge held before it became the darling of the mainstream.

So what does the label do, market it against grunge.  I never stopped listening to hard rock music in the nineties.  To be honest, i hated the grunge movement, however it benefited me the most.

I know it’s a contradiction, how can something that i hate, benefit me?  Easy. Instead of spending money on new music, I started hunting out all the second hand record shops and started picking up vinyl from the seventies and eighties rock music.  I had a lot of money to spend, and spend it i did.  I was a Guitar World, Guitar School, Guitar for the Practicing Musician (which then became Guitar and then Guitar One) subscriber, so if i came across transcriptions in those magazines from the newer bands that was cool to play i would check it out.  Those magazines became my filter.

Months after the Mane Attraction release, Vito and Mike just called it quits.  After sticking it out for so long, it was over.  The band was already split, with James Lomenzo and Greg D’Angelo leaving to be replaced by Tommy Caradonna and Jim Degrasso.

Mike Tramp continued with Freak of Nature.  Vito on the other hand, went home.  He had enough.  He spent his whole life to become a master virtuoso on the guitar.

He spent his whole life perfecting his art.  It brought him fame.  When it came, he just walked away from it.  He was 30 years old.

Mike Tramp described the ending like this;

We never got a chance to say goodbye to the fans. We never got a chance to make a statement to the press. White Lion was playing the last show and Vito and I just went to the airport — I went to California and he went to New York — and we just said… We didn’t even look at each other. And it wasn’t that we were fighting. And the interesting thing… [People say] ‘Well, why shouldn’t you carry on?’ [But we got] no call from the record company, no call from the managers, no call from the merchandising company… All these people were making millions of dollars off us. It’s like we just disappeared. There was never any closing. So it’s taken me many years to really understand what the fuck happened here.”

The below was from another interview that Mike Tramp gave on why White Lion ended on the famous interview website.

Why couldn’t you have done in “White Lion” what you’re now doing as a solo artist? And, why did “White Lion” have to break-up?
A – It’s almost like I’m going to have to answer the last question first. Even though there’s two people in there writing the songs, the 80’s were a phenomenal decade. Unfortunately, most people wanted to be rock stars, instead of trying to build a longevity. That includes the manager and the record co. Nobody, after the first record succeeded, really was concerned about what the band was doing and where the band was heading. The concern was really how quickly can we get the next record out and how can we get on the next tour. As things like that happen, you start to get the negative things. The second record does not have the same numbers, as the first. We don’t have the same hit on the second one. By the time you get to the third album, the band is not the same band that started out in the basement of Brooklyn, New York. We’ve been influenced by money. We live in four different places. I live in California. Vito lives in Staten Island. And the other guys are scattered somewhere else. When we try to catch up on the third and final record, it becomes a rescue mission, instead of a true and honest record from a band. So much money is put into it, it’s bound to fail. The record co. I think has basically let go of the band, because they have signed the next two follow-up bands, to White Lion. And, at that time, there’s no hope. Mike Tramp would not be able to make the decision and write the lyrics in 1988 when everything was 200 girls backstage between every show, big tour buses and big arenas. You write those lyrics when you sit in your little house, and the phone doesn’t ring and no friends are coming around. You get into what I call my own little war room, where you create, and bring out your true feelings.

Money is where the innocence ends and the arguments start.

I believe Vito wanted to come back with a new band.  Vito said in the Eddie Trunk interview that it was hard for him to write songs for another band that wasn’t White Lion.

Other interviews I had heard, showed Vito being not too happy about the music business and how they (the people around them) where exploiting White Lion to make millions, while the band would make less than what their accountants made.

Any chance of coming back took a back seat, as he became a carer for his parents.  This time Vito, couldn’t just leave his home and tour, without knowing what he would be paid.  With age, comes a different mindset.  Priorities are different.

 

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Vito Bratta – Eddie Trunk Interview – 17 February 2007

VITO BRATTA – so the record company’s saying we need another Pride.  I say, Ok, so what exactly does that mean?  The label goes we need the hit singles… I go listen the songs we gave you, on “Pride” weren’t hit singles written purposely to be to be hit singles. They were just songs that became hit singles and they were just songs we wrote.  Now you’ve got somebody telling you now you have to purposely write a hit single.  Now how do you do that?  How do you purposely write a hit single, I mean there are people out there that do that…

Vito was a songwriter who created songs that he wanted to create.  That is why the music sounded magical.  I always hated it, when a band’s creativity was stifled or chained just so that the labels can chase dollars, and by doing that the labels end up losing because the band becomes lost.  If a band becomes lost, the audience will know.  In the seventies, the bands did what they wanted.  The labels were scared to say anything to the artists.  Then the artists got rich, joined with Wall Street bankers and everything changed.

VITO BRATTA – “Big Game” was a setback for the Label.  It didn’t sell as many.   We were doing a headlining tour of Europe by ourselves for the Big Game album and they (the Label) said wouldn’t it be great if we played at Wembley with Motley Crue and Skid Row? 

Skid Row went on and they were just killing the place.  And Motley Crue had a great show and here we are sandwiched in between.

We realized, that night, on stage at Wembley that these songs from the Big Game album aren’t translating well in the live show because when you’ve got tens of thousands of angry British rockers out in the audience and if you don’t have a certain type of music; it just wasn’t working.  So we all looked at each other on stage and said we need to throw in some of our better stuff in here.  I was like what better stuff.  We need to write more for who we are because these songs are not translating.  

Then we went back to the States and we told the record label, no more tours on this album.  We are going to do the album that we want to do.  And they said well considering how the last album went, they said “go ahead”.  They gave us unlimited funds.  Mane Attraction was a half a million dollar record.  They just said go and do everything that you want.  Now the problem was that by the time it came out, that whole scene was over with.  

A half a million dollar record, and once it came out, it was over in 4 months.  These days you can record an album for 10,000.  Then again why would you.  Just record your best songs and release more frequently.  White Lion where missing for 18 months from the music business.  It was the worst decision ever made.

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White Lion – Big Game + killer Vito Bratta moments

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The music to Big Game was written by Vito in dressing rooms during the Pride tour.  It was important for the label Atlantic Records to get a new album out so that they could capitalise on the success of the Pride album.

It was released in August 1989 and it was produced by Michael Wagener who also did the successful Pride album.   The album turns 24 years this year.

Coming into this album – the White Lion story was as follows; play as many club gigs as you can with the hope to get signed.  They got signed by a major (Elektra Records) and then got dumped by that same label.

They released Fight To Survive independently, which then led them to another major label (Atlantic) and the multi platinum Pride album with the hit single Wait that was on MTV rotation every six minutes.

They where promoted as pretty boys in tight leathers however amid all the catchy hooks and technical riffs, where some serious themes.  El Salvador appeared on Fight To Survive, the anti war ballad When The Children Cry appeared on Pride and now on Big Game, you have the band talking about apartheid (Cry For Freedom), religion (If My Mind Is Evil), Greenpeace and the Rainbow Warrior (Little Fighter) and violence in the family (Broken Home).

Stand Outs

Goin Home Tonight – The first thing that you hear is that wonderful 12 sting A major arpeggiated intro moving from A to E to D like Randy Rhoad’s Crazy Train.  As an artist I really appreciate it when other artists bring in the major key to rock and metal music.  It’s easy to remain in the dark sad, minor key.

I’ve been in this hell forever
I don’t even know how long
And there were times I thought I never
Would hold you in my arms again

Life on the road is like hell.  You are living with four to five guys that you may or may not like.  It’s hard enough holding a relationship without having any issues.   Eventually you just want to be home, with your missus and your family. 

And you will keep me warm at night
And you will make me live again
Yes I’m going home tonight and
You’ll be waiting

The history of music is littered with songs about the road.  The most famous ones are Turn The Page, Home Sweet Home and Wanted Dead Or Alive.   The solo is breathtaking to say the least.  Solo’s when done right, enhance the song.  I compare this solo to what Randy Rhoads did in Crazy Train.  Again its over similar chord progressions and it has the tapping/legato feel that Randy Rhoads achieved.   

Little Fighter

In this track Vito Bratta used the Steinberger TransTrem so the song is in the key of F# instead of E.  This is a great song.  The issue that a lot of people could have had with the band is that they where not sure if they where a party band or a serious band.  Musically the White Lion music is serious and in a way technical, however Mike Tramp’s lyrics can really let the song down.  On this track it is all spot on.  Even though the song is about the Rainbow Warrior Greenpeace ship, anyone can relate to it.  Any person that has been down trodden, abused and down and out for the count can relate to it.

You were one of a kind
One who’d never give it up

Any musician out there trying to make it you need to be the one that never gives up.

Rise again little fighter and let the world know the reason why

That’s all we are in life, fighters.  We fight from the day we are born to breathe, to grow, to learn and to be somebody.  Andy Warhol said that every person will experience 15 minutes of fame in their life and that is what so many strive for these days.  Fame. 

Broken Home – Broken Home is a song about violence in the family.   It’s another serious topic Tramp is tackling. 

The acoustic guitar playing from Bratta is brilliant and smooth and you don’t even hear his fingers shifting like you do on more amateur guitarists like me.  I hate recording acoustic guitars. 

Lyrically the first 4 songs deal with life on the road, sex, Greenpeace and violence in the family.  I like that variation in a band. 

Cry For Freedom is like Little Fighter, another political song, this time about apartheid in South Africa.    The below is from the September 1989 Guitar World interview.

GW Brad Tolinski: The strains of folk music in Cry For Freedom are suprising.

Bratta: It wasn’t really calculated, but what I wanted to create was something like a compilation record where every song sounded like a different band.

GW Brad Tolinski: Because of the dramatic nature of Cry For Freedom it would have been easy to play a corny clichéd solo in the upper register.  You show a lot of maturity and restraint by inserting that bruising low end riff instead.

Bratta: If I wrote an entire record and didn’t hear a solo in my head, there wouldn’t be one.  In Cry For Freedom I wanted to lull the listener into a daydream then shake them up and punch them in the nose.  It’s hard to create the tension found on Cry For Freedom.

Cliched Songs with Great Bratta Moments

Dirty Woman – again the major key intro, this time in the Key of F, moving from F to G, then the minor key sexual boogie in the key of Dm and back to the majors for the Jazz influenced verses.  So many different styles fused so effortlessly. 

The Jimi Hendrix E7#9 bridge/solo/bridge/solo progression references the good old 12 bar blues vocal and response.  In the second solo, where it’s got the six notes per quarter, John Petrucci used the same style of lick for Caught In A Web.

Living On The Edge follows a similar theme to Goin Home Tonight, but in this case, it’s the start of the journey.  It looks Mike Tramp was referencing his life, by packing his bags and heading over the US to start his RNR dream.  I see it as just hitting the road and playing show  after show.  As is the case with Bratta, he delivers a super melodic solo section for a mediocre song.    

Don’t Say It’s Over has a killer solo section from Bratta, however its hard to get into this song.  The album is all over with its mixed messages to everyone, Goin Home Tonight is about returning home to a loved one, Dirty Woman is about getting down and dirty, this one is about a break up and Baby Be Mine is about keeping the romance together.    If you want to listen to break up songs, listen to Phil Collins – Face Value album.

If My Mind Is Evil has a killer heavy riff and is one of the heaviest songs White Lion has recorded.  It just doesn’t do anything lyrically for me.  It sounds ridiculous to be honest.  Then the solo comes in, all classical and smooth for 10 seconds and then all sinister and evil.  What contrasts. 

Album Filler Songs

Baby Be Mine, Radar Love and Let’s Get Crazy 

Final Word

Its always hard to follow up an album that goes gangbusters.  White Lion delivered a more mature album in Big Game, however the fans that got into White Lion via the Pride album didn’t really resonate with this album.  They wanted the sugar pop hits like Wait however the band didn’t even come close to writing a song like Wait on this album.

 

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VITO BRATTA – Guitar World September 1989 – Part 1

VITO BRATTA – Guitar World September 1989 – Part 1

It’s a different experience when you open a Guitar World issue from September 1989 and re-read it in 2013.

It’s a who’s who of where are they now.  Marty Friedman and Jason Becker are hot off the press with their Cacophony releases and are endorsing ADA Amps, Jeff LeBar from Cinderella is endorsing Ernie Ball Strings, Richie Kotzen is endorsing Ibanez, Kip Winger is endorsing Peavey and Brian Forsythe is promoting Kix’s fourth album Blow My Fuse, before it exploded with the song Don’t Close Your Eyes.  Johnny Diesel  is well known in Australian circles and he is in there promoting Johnny Diesel and the Injectors that went on to make a big splash on the Australian scene during this period.  To a kid starting out playing guitar it just looked like one big hard rock, metal party was going on in the U.S.  I wanted to be part of it.

Marty Friedman went on to join Megadeth and found success.  Then he left to follow his muse writing Japanese pop music.

Jason Becker’s story is a sad one.  He went on to replace Steve Vai in David Lee Roth’s band only to be struck down with a rare disease at the age of 20 called Lou Gehrig’s Disease.  From recording the A Little Ain’t Enough album in 1989 to being given three to five years to live.  He is still alive now and communicates via eye movements.

Richie Kotzen has had a varied career.  Apart from being a solo artist, he went on to replace CC Deville in Poison.  The album Native Tongue was a brilliant album funk, blues rock album and it is a shame it didn’t get the recognition it did.  He also replaced Paul Gilbert in Mr Big between 1998 and 2004.

However, the reason for this story is Vito Bratta.  He is on the cover.  The hot shot guitarist and songwriter from White Lion, promoting their latest release.   Big Game was the follow up album to the mega successful breakthrough album Pride that spawned the hits Wait and When the Children Cry.

Since then White Lion went on to release Mane Attraction in May 1991 and by September that same year they called it a day.  Vito Bratta hasn’t released anything musical since Mane Attraction in 1991.  Brad Tolinski interviewed Vito.

“Guitarist Vito Bratta’s work is immediately distinctive for its strong sense of melody, thoughtful use of dynamics and pick attack, as well as a graceful near-metronomic sense of time that sounds neither forced nor rigid.  Although he’s definitely not from the Malmsteen School of high baroque, Bratta’s liquid phrasing is in spirit reminiscent of certain passages from Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin.  The elegant trills over the A chord in the ninth measure of the solo in “Wait” and the call and response of the alternating legato/dettache phrasing in “Don’t Give Up” suggest a player who understands music in a classic, rather than classical sense.”

To add to that, Vito’s grasp of melody and modes to me was at a very high level.  Songs written by Vito cover a lot of different musical styles.  His choice of notes, different chord voices and harmonies was a pleasure on the ear palette.

“I’ve been developing a more personalized approach to chord voicings and inversions.  The problem is these voicings don’t always sound good through a distorted amp.  So instead of using more conventional inversions, I’ll arpeggiate the chord.  This allows me to mute certain notes within the chord, eliminating some of the ugly overtones you get when you play close harmonies with distortion.  Al DiMeola once said his muting technique was a result of not wanting to wake anyone when he was practicing late at night!  Sometimes good things come out of compromise and determination.”

Apart from being a guitarist in a successful rock band, he was also an artist.  To Vito it was all about the music.

The mention of Al DiMeola and how he came to have an unbelievable muting technique shows that he knows his stuff, he has listened widely, he has studied what others have offered before him and incorporated it all into what he does.

Vito also talks about the limitations of playing through a distorted amp and how he circumvented those limitations, by changing the way he plays.  Instead of standard power chords, he is arpeggiating inversions of that chord and muting the strings at the same time.

GW Brad Tolinski:  Another unusual aspect of your rhythm technique is the extensive use of fingerpicking, particularly on the new record.   How did that evolve?

Bratta: That was another outgrowth of my song writing.  I usually write songs by myself, then play then for Mike so that he can write lyrics.  Because I want to give Mike the most accurate picture, I’m forced into creating a fairly complete sketch with my guitar alone.  I know an easier way would be to use multi-track tape machines, but I’m not into that.  So when I start thinking of the basic feel, I’ll come up with a bass part and play it on the low strings with my thumb.  Next, I’ll try and create a chord progression and try to coordinate the chordal movement so that I can play the bass line simultaneously.  Finally I’ll add a suggested melody line on the top.  The only way to have all three things happening at once is through some form of fingerpicking. 

Since this approach really excites me, I didn’t want to drop it when we went into the studio.  That’s why my rhythm guitar parts have a lot of movement.  If I was going to use the typical heavy metal approach on something like Little Fighter, I would just chunk away on the low E and A strings.

These days, artists would multi track everything in the demo stages.  Hell, I do, it’s easy.  Vito developed a fingerpicking style that combined what classical, blues, country and bluegrass players do however he applied it in a pop sense.   Imagine being the singer and you get given a demo that has the bass parts, the chords and the melody lines all on one track as an acoustic guitar piece.  To me this is what made Vito different to the other players.  He was a guitar nerd and I mean that in a good way.  He knew his shit, but he wasn’t textbook.  I know that the 90’s served up the argument against players with technical ability not playing with feel.  Bullshit I say.  Just because a technical player can step on the gas when they want to and drive at 200km per hour, it doesn’t mean they have no feel.  I was doing something similar like Vito, however as soon as I got my multi track recorder, I stopped doing it and took up the technological alternative.  Looking back, I do regret it, as it is a skill now that has been relegated to beginner’s level again, instead of remaining at an advanced level.  Technology has made us lazy, and it has made us cover up how bad we really are.  If we can’t sing, we auto tune, if we make mistakes, we fix up the note/s.

GW Brad Tolinski:  Many of these concepts were evident on Pride, but the execution was more rigid.

Bratta: The reason for that is kind of complicated.  I wrote the whole Pride record on acoustic guitar.  Then I went into the studio and started playing all these wonderful chord inversions through a Marshall, and it came out sounding like shit.  So instead of rewriting the whole album I kept the voicings, but did a whole lot of muting.  Big Game on the other hand was written on my Steinberger in dressing rooms across the U.S., so I had a chance to audition all my ideas on an amp way ahead of time.  As a result, I was able to create sympathetic voicings so I didn’t have to mute the strings as much.  The overall sound is more legato and less staccato, and the pre-production made me more at ease in general.

I can totally relate to that.  I write every song on acoustic guitar and when it comes time to electrify it, I end up changing it a lot of it and it loses its soul.  Just by replacing an arpeggiated part with a power chord, it is enough to lose the feel you are trying to convey.  I then try and fix this problem by adding multi guitar lines which could either muddle the song even more or bring clarity.  It’s a hit and miss game, and previously when I have been in studios where time is money, it’s being more miss than hit.

One thing that Vito shows is that he is a persistent artist.  He is prepared to persevere for his art.  Not many artists these days, have those attributes.  To use an analogy, a lot of artists will dig away in the mines for years on end, only to stop a few centimetres dirt short from the gold or diamonds waiting on the other side.  And then you have one artist that just keeps on digging and they reach it.  Never give up on your dreams and walk away.  If there is a lesson to be learned here, persevere and keep on getting better.

GW Brad Tolinski: Your latest work doesn’t sound as heavy as it did in the past, yet it does sound more aggressive.

Bratta: After touring with AC/DC and Aerosmith for a year, I felt a little more aggressive.  Some nights I would come up with something pretty, but after seeing Angus bash it out, I would say “Fuck pretty”.

Again the fan in Vito comes to the fore.  He is letting the bands that White Lion is playing shows with influence him.  He is watching what they do, he is seeing what songs and riffs work in a concert atmosphere, because in the end, bands sink or swim based on the live show they deliver.   He is letting their sound, their aggression influence him.  Song writing isn’t just about musical notes and words.  It is about attitude and feeling.  What sound is needed to convey love or hate?  Minor key songs are sadder, major key songs are happier.   Crazy Train from Randy Rhoads is a perfect example, where major and minor combine in a glorious display.  The intro is F#m, the verses are A major and trippy, the chorus is back to F#m as the root.  The song is both pretty and aggressive.   Vito was a master of both.  Like Randy Rhoad’s he was bigger than the band he was in.

Part 2 will be a review of Big Game, plus more from the interview where Vito also talks about Big Game.

 

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