Monday, September 29, 2014

Ross The Boss Friedman - Present At The Creation, And Still Creating - The Rock Guitar Daily Interview

"For me, it's just my guitar, my amp, my heart, and my head." ~ Ross The Boss
Ross The Boss Friedman first entered my consciousness in the summer of 1975. The Dictators' debut album, Go Girl Crazy, came to me in a trade with future indie rock legend Robert Pollard, who dug whatever I gave him more than he dug the band's wrestling infused cover and outrageous liner notes, that referred to Friedman as Ross "The Boss" Funicello. Bob's mistake was in not first playing the record - Go Girl Crazy predated The Ramones by a year, and it married what would become punk rock with Beach Boys harmonies, hilarious lyrics, and the incredible proto-metal lead guitar playing of Ross The Boss. And that's just the beginning of the story.

After five years of being both smarter than their audience and ahead of their time, The Dictators went on hiatus, and through a combination of luck, hard work, imagination, and a recommendation by Ronnie James Dio, Friedman met bassist Joey DeMaio, and they forged the band that invented power metal, Manowar. Heavy metal would never be the same, but again, Ross The Boss was ahead of the curve, and while his band started a movement, and as often transpires, they never really got to lead that movement.

Fast forward twenty-five years to 2014, and Ross The Boss Friedman is still touring with The Dictators NYC, who are bigger than they've ever been, and he's also playing guitar for Death Dealer, who may just be the next big thing in classic metal. Wait a minute, have I heard that phrase before? Yeah, I have - The Next Big Thing was the first song on the Dictators first album, and its incendiary guitar solo by Mr. Funicello née Friedman made me go out and buy a Les Paul and a Marshall half stick. In short, it changed my life, and there was no looking back.

I caught up with Ross as he was doing what it is he does - getting ready to play a show at New York's legendary Knitting Factory.

Ross The Boss: "It's my nephew Lance's gig - he has a band called Fate Breaks Dawn, the metal bad, and they're young guys in their twenties. 
"I've been helping them out, and they always try, 'Let's get Uncle Ross to play a Manowar set - their vocalist, Mike Catoia is tremendous, I mean, he's amazingly great, and Lance plays guitar, but he'll be playing drums - he's a multi-instrumentalist. We've also got Mike LePond from Symphony X playing bass. So, we're going to do that, and we have Flames Of Fury opening up with another very good singer, Angelica Valkerie - so it's going to be a great metal night!"

Friedman is an old school, rock and roll legend - he's always working, whether it's touring with The Dictators, producing and playing with younger metal bands that he believes in ("I believe in them, you have to"), or writing and recording with his latest project, Death Dealer, a band put together via the internet by singer Sean Peck (Cage, Empires Of Eden), and guitarist Stu Hammer Marshall (Empires Of Eden, Dungeon). Their first album lead them to a successful first tour of Europe in the spring of 2014, and I asked Ross about the progress they were making on their sophomore effort:

Ross The Boss: "After The Dictators get back from Spain in November, we're going to play the Fun Fun Fun Fest in Austin on the 6th, then I'll fly to LA and we're (Death Dealer) going to work on finishing the new record. 
"All the songs are written, we're going to play some gigs, and film some 'for content' video. Then, we'll put it all out in April or May. A lot of it has already been recorded."

In the classic metal tradition of Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, Death Dealer contains two guitarists who play in very different styles, but manage to mesh together in a fantastic fashion. I enquired as to  how the two guitarists split up the workload:

Ross The Boss: "Well, we just feel it out. Certain sections are perfect for me, certain sections of songs I'm writing, certain songs are better for Stu. 
"I don't really know - we just have a second sense about it. The slower stuff, Stu thinks I master that, because of my blues touch. Then, there's a lot of stuff that I'd rather him play, so it's really pretty cool. We're both playing the rhythms. It's a great thing because we pretty much have two completely different styles.

In fact, K.K. Downing was the other guitarist considered for the band before they decided to go with Friedman:

Ross The Boss: "That's right, K.K. was considered! 
"Yeah, listen - I'm having fun with it. I like the way we're approaching it. Stu came to me, and he said, 'Listen, I love Manowar, I grew up on Manowar, Hail To England is my favorite record, and I can't believe I'm playing in a band with you.' I said, 'Yeah Stu, you have a fresh style, and I love the way you play.' 
"He's not a total shredder, in that vein, but he's a very, very good musician, a great songwriter, and producer."

Having a lineup that lives in the four corners of the globe often requires collaboration by file sharing these days. I had seen a YouTube video of him recording in his home studio, so I asked Ross about his signal path in his home studio because the tones I've heard were so massive:

Ross The Boss: "That's right, I was working out of my business, my batting cage! 
"That's where I work, I have a lot of stuff there. I have DigiDesign Eleven Rack, Pro Tools, and what it does is allow me to custom design my sounds. The great thing about the Eleven Rack is that it produces a mono track of clean guitar. It produces a stereo track of my sound, and then a mono track of clean guitar, so then we can either re-amp it, or re-process it."

Since he had mentioned Stu Marshall talking about his command of slower solo pieces, I agreed that in some clips I've seen, Ross' melodic moments put me in mind of the great David Gilmour:

Ross The Boss: "Not that I listen to him that much, but David Gilmour is definitely one of my favorite guitar players on the planet. 
"But, I really started idol is B.B. King. He really showed me how to put every ounce of emotion into every note you play. And even though I do play fast, maybe too fast sometimes, because you have to, but it's all about being able to transfer your emotions through the guitar, and have it not just be an exercise. To me, that's where it's all at."

One could think that it may seem unlikely for a guitarist who first may well have had a hand in the birth of punk rock, and then to be a cornerstone to the inception of power metal to be a guy who plays straight from the heart, but au contraire - even on his first major label release with The Dictators back in '75, Ross Friedman was exactly that guy. His terse, stinging leads were what made every band he was in possess a heart, and character that got beyond their over the top images. His solos spoke directly to the heart of the matter:

Ross The Boss: "Yeah, well, thank you. 
"My influences, and I say it all the time - I started with the blues, B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, Howlin' Wolf, Little Walter, Paul Butterfield, because when I was growing up, let's see, I was 13 in 1967, so it exploded. Guitar music ruled music. 
"Look who was out there when I was 13 - 13 is a big year, a turning point. 
"You had Cream, Disraeli Gears, you had Are You Experienced, you had The Yardbirds, Paul Butterfield Blues Band with Michael Bloomfield and Elvin Bishop. I don't know....1967. 
"Then, two years later in '69, you had, of course, The Who with Live At Leeds, Wheels Of Fire, Hendrix kept making amazing records, the first Led Zeppelin record, and the thing about it was, the thing about it, Tony, was that every record that came out with a guitar player - I was really into Jorma Kaukonen, those West Coast guys, Jerry Garcia, everyone that I heard, Carlos Santana, Carlos was a big influence there for a while on me. Everyone I heard, I was sucking up that style.  
"I was at that age - everything I heard, I was just sucking it up, and 'How did he do that?' 
"There was never a time that I used any effects, so everything I did was just the guitar, the amp, and me. So, I came to develop that style. It was melodic. 
"I believe in that. For me, that's what I'm into - I used to go to the Fillmore East and see Chuck Berry come out, he had his cord in his hand, and he just plugged it into his amp. B.B. King comes out, and plugs into the Fender, Freddie King comes out, plugs it in. Those guys didn't use anything. 
"Listen, I like the wah wah pedal, and I like Big Muff, and all that kind of stuff that Hendrix had - for him, with that Stratocaster making all those sounds - that was amazing. I mean, let's face facts. But, not everyone is Jimi Hendrix. 
"I think today, people might look at me like that's boring. The guitar manufacturers, and magazines - it's like you see Steve Vai, and there's a mile of stuff. It's like computers on the floor. And don't get me wrong, that works great for him, and he loves it, but for me it's just my guitar, my amp, my heart, and my head."

I next asked Ross about my having just seen a message on Death Dealers' website that stated the band was now being endorsing Blackstar Amps - as always, Ross hit the pitch straightaway:

Ross The Boss: "Listen - They're going to be very nice to us. They're going to supply the back line for our West Coast trip and our video. 
"Now listen - whether I use their amps or not? Stu says they're magnificent, I have Marshalls, an EVH which is really great - made by Fender, that is really great, it's just amazing. So, Blackstar - if I can find an amp that I like that they have, I'll use it. I'm about to do the Metal All Stars, and Gus G uses them." - Metal All Stars website

Metal All Stars will be touring in 20 European countries - participants include Joey Belladonna, Geoff Tate, Zakk Wylde, James LaBrie, the Appice brothers, and many other metal mainstays, including Ross The Boss:

Ross The Boss: "We're about to do that. There are so many combinations of people there. 
"There's going to have to be some utility musicians - like James LaBrie from Dream Theater is playing, and I don't know anything about Dream Theater, I've never listened to them. I couldn't tell you one lick - I've met John Petrucci here in Queens at Carnesecca Arena, and he was a great guy. We hung out together, but I'm sure he's never heard my music, and I've never heard any of his!  
"He's obviously a fantastic musician, but... Geoff Tate is going to be there, and I'm definitely capable of playing some Queensryche songs. Whatever it is, it is. It worked out great last time. I think for the heavy metal fan it's like, 'Wow!' It's like one after anotherJoey Belladonna, Zakk Wylde, Ross The Boss - it was great, it was non-stop. Like a heavy metal review. Plus, it's great publicity for us all."

One thing you'll notice about Ross The Boss Friedman is that he's a yes man when it comes to taking on work - all the better guitarists are. I asked him if taking every gig that makes sense is essential:

Ross the Boss: "That's a good question! I have to say yes. 
"Because, you know what? If you say no, you may not get another one. That's just the away I feel - that's from an old school, working guy. You gotta keep working. I'm working more than ever now. It's like, 'Oh my God!' But that's great - I must be doing something right!"

If there's anything good about the music business as it currently stands, it is that it allows for much greater cross pollination between acts and artists, and less contracts and lawyers:

Ross The Boss: "Exactly. And here's the bottom line of the whole thing, Tony, is that you have to play live, and you have to be good. 
"People are smart, they don't come out to see frickin' bad bands. People don't have the patience.  
"That's why The Dictators have been blowing up. We're doing so good - we had a great tour in July. We did sixteen shows in 17 days in eight countries in mainland Europe. Everybody is coming back, with 'Here's more gigs, here's more festivals.' Live Nations offering us this and that. Our booking agent, she's just in ecstasy."

The Dictators are a huge part of Ross' history, and I asked him if he was ever surprised by the band's staying power after nearly forty years:

Ross The Boss: "I'm not. I'm not, because we continue to get better. 
"We deliver every night. We knew we had something good when we started, it's just that people didn't understand it, haha! People didn't understand it when we started, but now they're getting it. So, we have a lot of great fans, a lot of guys have went on to form great bands, so we were kind of influential in that way, but we make each concert like it is our last concert - because you know, it might be. 
"So that's the way I feel about it - I'm going to play, and even if it's ten people, or a hundred people, whatever it is, I want those people to know that if it was my last show, I want everyone to know I gave it my all, I gave everything. 
"I don't take a solo off, I don't take off a frickin' minute onstage, neither does The Dictators, or any of the bands I play with - I won't have it."

Given their increase in touring, and the rise of interest in the band, I asked if there was any chance of a new record by The Dictators coming soon:

Ross The Boss: "Yeah, yeah - we are working on some stuff. I'm writing new songs, actually a lot are recorded, we're just waiting on the vocals, for Mr. Manitoba to get his stuff, he's almost done.  Right now, it's just so busy. He has his radio show on Little Steven's Underground Garage, and when you have to go away for over three weeks, he records his shows in advance, he's up in Sirius all the time. He's just been really busy! But the new songs will be finished soon."

The Dictators were nothing if not misunderstood. Too punk for metal, too metal for punk, and maybe too intelligent and musical for both, the band never got their due in their early career. They released three albums in the seventies that were equally brilliant, but each with slightly different takes on who and what the band might be. From the over-the-top smart assed rock of Go Girl Crazy to the sleek metal machine that made Manifest Destiny, and finally landing with the darkly brilliant Bloodbrothers, the band were making the right moves, but still not catching on in the mainstream. I asked Ross if there was a vision going in:

Ross The Boss: "We were just the sum of our parts. 
"Everybody in the band was a Who fan, a Beach Boys fan, MC5 fan, a Flamin' Groovies fan, you know? We all loved wrestling, we all did! Especially Mr. Manitoba when he became the lead singer, and his stage persona developing. 
"We all took those ridiculous names, and it was fun! We thought, 'Oh man, look at those guys, look at those jokers, everybody's gonna love it!' Ha! It didn't quite turn out like that. You know, I guess we were just trying to chase something. 
"We always knew what we were, but the fact that we had these producers, and management, and changing labels. By Bloodbrothers, we knew what we were, that's the real Dictators. On Manifest Destiny before that, we had the extra member, Mark Mendoza from Twisted Sister, on bass, and Andy Shernoff was on keyboards - that was a cool version of it, certainly there were some great songs on that record, but Bloodbrothers, live in the studio, that was it. That's basically the template we have now. 
"After Bloodbrothers came out, we toured, then Richie Teeter left the band - he wanted to make a band with some other guys, so he was gone. So, we said, 'Let's take a little hiatus.' That's basically what we did. We never called it quits.   
"But, it just kept going, and then the CBGB thing sustained us - I can safely say that I played CBGB thirty-four times!"
The Dictators with Tommy Ramone

No single club in New York City altered the face of rock like CBGB, and CBGB and The Dictators went hand in hand, and in 2006 when the club was finally shuttered, the band headlined their final weekend. I asked if this felt like an end to an era:

Ross The Boss: "That's a great question. 
"We did play the last weekend, the last Friday and Saturday. We effectively closed it, well, Patti Smith played on Sunday night, but The Dictators played the last punk rockers' weekend. You know, Friday night was great, blah, blah, blah, packed out, typical CBs night, but Saturday night - when I knew this was it, there was no comin' back, this was it, this was over. It was very, very emotional. 
"Especially, I know everybody was feeling it, but the very last song we played in our encore was with Tommy Ramone, and we did Blitzkrieg Bop. He sang Blitzkrieg Bop with us, and we took a very iconic picture. I'll send it to you (see above). 
"It was the last punk rock song, and now he's gone. It was very emotional. It wasn't like a typical CBs night - this was it, we all looked at each other, 'This is it, huh?' It'll never be again, so..."

As Ross had mentioned, the band took a hiatus after the Bloodbrothers record, and he ended up joining the French rockers, Shakin' Street, for a record and some touring. They made a great little record that almost no one heard, but more importantly they went on tour with Black Sabbath. Fate intervened in the personage of one Ronnie James Dio, and metal would never be the same again, but I'll let Ross tell the tale, and it's a classic:

Ross The Boss: "Sandy Pearlman, our manager, was in France, and he meets Fabienne Shine, whose band Shakin' Street is on CBS Records - that was Sandy's label - he was very, very entrenched there at the Big Rock, because Blue Oyster Cult was on CBS.  
"Fabienne charms the pants off of him, and she's going out with Jimmy Page! So, they start their relationship, and Sandy says, 'What's up with your band?' 'Well, we need a lead guitar player because our guitarist sold his guitar for heroin.' So, Sandy says, 'Ditch him, get rid of him, I've got a guy for you.' 
"So, the next day I'm on a plane for Paris. I walked into rehearsal there, I played one song, and they said, 'You're hired.' 
"Shakin' Street, we recorded the album at the Automatt - really good record, very happy with my tone on that record, really thick, really nice bluesy tone on it. We're on tour because Sandy also managed Black Sabbath. How convenient!  
"So, we're in England supporting Black Sabbath, and about the second show, after we had done our soundcheck, Ronnie Dio comes up to me, and he goes, 'You know, I know who you are, Ross - great guitar player, I'm very, I know the CBGB scene, and everything. I know your history, I know The Dictators.' The nicest guy in the world you've ever met, sweet, so well spoken, he said, 'Ross, I have a guy on my crew named Joey DeMaio, and I think you should meet him. He plays bass.' 
"I was definitely looking to do something really big. Try something different. 
"We're with Black Sabbath, and they are definitely heavy metal. I'm with my idols, you know? Heaven and Hell, they're having a resurgence, the crowds are just over the top. This was before the NWOHM (New Wave Of Heavy Metal), right? Right on the front end of that. 
"So, I go up to Joey, and I say, 'Ronnie said to introduce myself to you.' We became friends, and then we started jamming - when Sabbath was onstage, we'd be in their dressing room blasting away! They'd stop playing, and we'd still be blasting away, hahaha! Ronnie Dio would look up to the dressing room, and go, 'What the fuck is going on up there?' 
"So, we decided that after we played Hawaii, Aloha Stadium, I'd leave the band, and we'd start Manowar."

Manowar changed the face of heavy metal - at the time, Judas Priest and Iron Maiden were leading the metallic charge, and while they rocked mightily, Manowar's first album, Battle Hymns, upped the ante with their sheer bombast and over the top everything. Once again, Ross The Boss Friedman was 'present at the creation,' and ahead of the curve:

Ross The Boss: "Well, for a lot of people, they say it did.  
"What I would say about the Battle Hymns is this - we had the songs, I wrote most of them - we had all of these songs, we had this band, this singer, Eric Adams, and we said to ourselves, 'We know Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, and Motorhead, and we love these bands, but we can't look like them.' 
"First of all, it's not us. And second, we have to be ourselves. So, we came up with Manowar. 
"We have to embody what we sound like, we have to embody what we are putting out to the world. So - what's wilder than studs, metal, and chains? Probably animal skins! Then, to top it off, Conan The Barbarian, the movie, came out - we're watching this, and we're like, 'This is frickin' sick!' Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the way it looked, it was powerful! 
"We felt that women would really be attracted to it, and it turned out we were right! So, we came up with this image. And, I'm very into Wagner - I loved it, and I turned Joey on to Wagner, and how he doubled the bass, doubled the orchestra to make it louder and more powerful. Wagner had this vision, the Norse mythology played a big part in our creation."

And then there was Orson Welles. The legendary actor, director, and producer made his rock 'n' roll debut by providing narration for Manowar's first album:

Ross The Boss: "Orson Welles! It's a classic story. 
"We wrote this song called Dark Avenger, I had the music, Joey had the lyrics, and we needed narration. Who of that day, 1981, could do it? Well, James Earl Jones, Vincent Price... Orson Welles! 
"So, Rob Curry, the guy from EMI, the guy who signed us to EMI, he goes, 'Let me do some research.' Next thing I knew, he called us, and said, 'I found Welles, I found his manager, I sent him a message, and you're not going to believe it - he's going to be in town next week for 'The Night Of 1,000 Stars' at Radio City, and he's agreed to do it! 
"I say, 'You're shittin' me, this can't be real.' 
"The next thing you know, Joey and I are up at Media Sound over on 57th Street and we're like shitting our pants! All of a sudden, Mr. Welles is there. He's so big they have to bring him up in the freight elevator, he had a limo, EMI had sent a limo for him, he's stopping traffic on the street, women in mink coats are coming up to him - he's like God! 
"So, we meet him - he walks in, and says, 'Are the 
"He was really great, really cool, he dug the lyrics, so we had him do that, and we had him do Avenger, and the live intro for Manowar - 'Ladies and gentlemen, from the United States of America, Manowar.' 
"Listen - the rest is history on that, man. Six records, six years."

Alas, nothing lasts forever, and at the end of six years and six records, Ross The Boss was relieved of his duties as guitarist, writer, and head bottle washer at Manowar, Inc. What the hell were they thinking?:

Ross The Boss: "You know, I gotta tell ya. 
"I think looking back at it, I think Joey, you know, it was definitely a power move. 
"They lived away from me - I'm here in New York City, Queens, they're up in Auburn on the Western side of New York state, and I'm convinced of it, Joey wanted the band, he wanted control of everything himself, to micro-manage every single thing that happened in the band, and I'm not a guy that can be micro-managed. I'd been at the music business longer than him, I had four records before I met him. Things came down to it, and I was asked... 'Bye, bye.' 
"Which, looking back at it, it hasn't... Well, look at history, look what happened. I'm not gonna slag anyone, Carl, or David, but there's no way you can replace me - Ross The Boss - anyone else is just completely different. I made the template! Trying to do it with someone else, well, it's just not gonna work. It'll work, but it will never be the same. That's just the way it is."
Photo by Alan Tannenbaum

Moving forward in time, and back to The Dictators. In 2001, the band reconvened in the studio, and came out with a winner with their fourth studio album, D.F.F.D. (Dictators Forever, Forever Dictators). Here's what legendary music critic Ira Robbins of the Trouser Press had to say about it:

"Far from being the needless afterbirth of middle-aged punks attempting to elbow their way back into a kids' game, this tower of power recapitulates everything the band has ever done and elevates it with clever writing, blistering but clean production and rejuvenated fervor in the playing and vocals. This is pop punk for grownups, with worldly lyrics that may leave younger listeners in the cultural dark." ~ Ira Robbins, Trouser Press

Ross The Boss: "We really loved doing that one. 
"We were playing shows and Andy had these songs, and I had a few riffs there, I don't know, we just wanted to make a new record, we wanted to make some new songs. We had a bunch of songs that were really great, and how do you not do, Who Will Save Rock 'N' Roll, Savage Beat, Presence Of A New God, Burn Baby Burn? All great stuff - I thought it was a fantastic record."

There go The Dictators again, leaving their potential audience standing at the alter because they're too damned good. However, the band was still picking up steam as a live act, and the loyal legions are growing still. As things often do in the big, bad world of rock 'n' roll, key players come and go, and original singer/writer/bassist Andy (Adny) Shernoff, and rhythm guitarist Scott Kempner (Top Ten) have, indeed, came and went, being replaced by a couple of NYC rock scene stalwarts, Daniel Rey, and Dean Rispler. I asked Ross about the new guys:

Ross The Boss: "Well - Daniel Rey is The Ramones producer, a songwriter, worked a lot with Joey (Ramone) on his solo album, he played in a band called Shrapnel, and he was the original guitar player in Manitoba's Wild Kingdom - so he's obviously considered a family member. He was the only choice I wanted for The Dictators NYC. 
"Dean Rispler? Big friends with JP (drummer JP "Thunderbolt" Patterson) - JP brought him into the fold. Dean is one of the finest musicians I know. He plays bass, he's an amazing bass player, a fantastic guy to have in the band. JP and him are a fantastic rhythm section, and that's just the way it is. 
"We have a band that's very, very happy to be on the road, to be in the van together, and you know how important that is, Tony. 
"You're going to be impressed - very impressed, I'm telling you."

Well, it's to that time where I ask about the artist's take on the music business circa 2014 - as expected, Ross is cautiously optimistic:

Ross The Boss: "Well, I feel that - listen. Having a whole revenue stream taken away from us is pretty nasty. 
"And, Metallica was right to fight it, but now that the genie is out of the bottle, there's nothing you can do. Hopefully, they'll find ways to stop piracy.  
"The thing about heavy metal is the fans are very loyal, and they understand that you have to buy the CD, you have to support the band, if you want the band to come around and play for you. It's not just going to happen - you've gotta come out, support them live, buy their T-Shirts, if they have CDs, buy the CDs, buy the songs - download them, but pay for them! 
"It's definitely getting better, there's no doubt about it."

Along similar lines, I asked what advice he would have for a young musician or band just starting out, and wanting to get into the game:

Ross The Boss: "Don't follow anybody, don't listen to anybody, be yourselves, play hard, practice hard, as hard as you can, listen to your heart, and try not to get ripped off, haha! 
"I tell all the young players like Lance and my nephew, you gotta go back to the beginning of music - you gotta go back to rock 101. You've gotta know all these guys - I'm not saying you have to play like them, but you've got to know Jimmy Page, Muddy Waters, Elvis Presley, Scotty Moore, James Burton, you've gotta know all these guys. Know what it is, listen, then decide for yourself - don't begin the rock alphabet with the letter M."

After wrapping up a very busy 2014, what will the new year hold for Ross The Boss?:

Ross The Boss: "In January we (The Dictators NYC) have ten shows out on the West Coast, then the Death Dealer album will be out around April. The Dictators tour will be three weeks in Europe, then Death Dealer - we're already booked for some festivals, and then we'll do a run in Europe. 
"We signed with a new agency in Germany. It's the whole rigamarole - nothin' I ain't been through a million times!"

Ross, did you ever think back in 1975 that you'd still be doing this, forty years on?:

Ross The Boss: Nah, it really wasn't in my head. It was always just the next day, the next gig, will it happen, will it keep going? Or, will we wake up and there's nothing? 
"Actually, it's been great. 
"I've been blessed. We didn't mention the Ross The Boss Band, the two records in Germany. People still want it, I have a record contract with AFM/SoulFood, you know. Listen - I'm trying. The older I get, I just don't have the energy to do three projects at the same time. But yeah, it's definitely on the table. In the meantime, I'm very, very busy. 
"Keeping my head down, and charging forward."

Before we hung up, Ross reminded me that we hadn't talked about ESP Guitars, one of his longtime and treasured sponsors:

Ross The Boss: "We knew the ESP guys when they were on 48th Street, when they first started. 
"The guys were big Dictators fans, so they gave us guitars. They were always very, very nice, the quality was always there. I'm still always playing my Les Paul Custom, and my SG Custom, but it got to the point where that Les Paul was so heavy, I was getting shoulder pain after all these decades. 
"I said, 'Matt (Masciandaro, ESP Guitars President), can you send me that guitar, The Eclipse?' They sent me that guitar with 24 frets, and it was a Les Paul-type style - it sounded great, it felt great, looks great, but it's a whole lot lighter. So I don't get the shoulder pains from wearing that guitar, you don't get slump shouldered! 
"I love the Les Pauls, I just bought a new one, I've got a lot of them, and another things is that if you're traveling on the road a lot, you don't want to bring super valuable guitars out on the road with you. God forbid, something gets nicked, I can get another one."

And so you have it - the world according to Ross The Boss.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Rival Sons - Rockin' The Fillmore, San Francisco, California

Myles Wright Photography
It's always a buzz to get that last minute message that asks if you can make it to a great show. It's even better when it's a band's first show in a legendary venue, and Rival Sons debut at The Fillmore couldn't have come off any better. They flat out rocked the joint.

Rival Sons are doing it the right way - they've been with the Earache Records since nearly the beginning (they did self release their first long player, Before The Fire, in 2009), they've had Dave Cobb on board as their producer for three albums running, and they have a management team behind them that kicks ass and takes names. They're growing up and developing as a band, and it appears that they're getting better by the minute. As I said - they are doing it the right way.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Carl Verheyen - Mustang Run And The Musical Diaries - The Rock Guitar Daily Interview

"I think what you have to do to pull off having a career in the music business is to not aim for stardom, but to aim for making a living. If you're strong enough, stardom will come, you know what I mean? The chances of being a Stevie Ray Vaughan is one in a million, but the chances of making it in the music business, living comfortably, providing for your family, and doing what you want to do for a living - if you have any talent at all - you can do that. It just takes hard work." ~ Carl Verheyen
Carl Verheyen has released his 13th solo album, Mustang Run on his Cranktone record label, and he's getting ready to head off to the UK and Europe for an extensive tour that will keep him busy until Thanksgiving (it's now the middle of September). He's one of the last of the true A-list session players in Los Angeles, been a member of classic rock legends Supertramp since 1985, records his solo albums in the best studios in Los Angeles, finds himself finally drug into the world of home studios and Pro Tools, and yet he can still be found in his basement on a Saturday morning giving a personal guitar lesson.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Bernie Tormé - Flowers & Dirt - A Huge Success On Every Level

Rock Ain't Near Dead - if this is what death sounds like, bring it on....

Bernie Tormé is releasing his first solo record in fifteen years, his first studio work since 2008 on September 29th, and Flowers & Dirt proves to be an album well worth the wait. Definitely in my top ten for 2014 at this point. Maybe even an absolute all-time rock guitar classic - yes, I believe it is.

Tormé went the crowd funding route to get this package put together on PledgeMusic - his fans showed the love to the extent of 418% of his goal, and he's put together a fantastic package. It's almost an hour and a half of stunning straight up rock, and no matter where you drop the needle, you're going to be smiling from ear to damned ear. This is glorious rock, children, and Bernie's laying down one fine sermon after another. And God love him, he didn't cheap out on the artwork and packaging, it's top notch. I love a guy that gives a shit, and the Irish guitarist has delivered the goods in spades.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Vinnie Moore - The Pro's Pro - The Rock Guitar Daily Interview

Vinnie Moore appears to be on quite an uphill climb - he's just released what I believe to be his finest work yet with the stunning debut of his new band Red Zone Rider, he's in the process of completing his six studio outing with heavy rock legends UFO, and he's got a new solo album in the can, ready for mixing and mastering. All of this should add up to a very busy 2015 for the veteran six stringer.

Red Zone Rider might just be the best new band of 2014, and their debut album (out September 16th) will most likely end up on a lot of year end top ten lists. Comprised of Moore, Kelly Keeling, and drummer Scot Coogan, the band has partnered up with Magna Carta Records, and longtime metal guru Mike Varney and they've got a winner on their hands. Every track on the album is rock solid, and the songs and performances are going to raise a lot of eyebrows in the world of hard rock.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Spike - 100% Pure Frankie Miller - Molten Rock 'N' Soul Gold, 2014's Best?

Rock Ain't Near Dead....not even close, not as long as there's new records like this.

In which, Spike of The Quireboys goes solo with a set of never before heard Frankie Miller compositions with guests such as Ronnie Wood, Bonnie Tyler, Ian Hunter, one of God's rhythm sections in Free's Simon Kirke and Andy Fraser, Luke Morley, and a list of other UK rock luminaries, which will most likely end up on a great many year's end top tens.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Richie Faulkner of Judas Priest - Defender Of The Faith - The Rock Guitar Daily Interview

"I think the skepticism that some people might have, or have had was just a testament to how passionate they are about the band, you know? There was a healthy amount of skepticism that comes from that passion, and I think that's a healthy thing. That's a testament to the fans. And thanks to the fans for trusting in the band, buying tickets, coming down to the show. Within 30 seconds, man - they had their hands up in the air, and they're screaming along. It was just instant really, so a big hat's off to them for doing that." ~ Richie Faulkner on Judas Priest's fans.
Richie Faulkner is still the new guy in Judas Priest, though he's been with the group for over three years. He made his debut in front of tens of millions of viewers on an episode of American Idol, he's played well over a hundred shows with the band, and he's now written and recorded the band's highest charting debut on the Billboard charts (#6) - but, he's still the new guy, and nobody gets what that means more than Mr. Faulkner. He's remarkably respectful to the band's history, legacy, and fans - he understands that the job he's taken is a revered position, and that no one would be stamped as approved without thoroughly having their mettle tested. After the last three years, it's extremely clear to see that the band made the proper choice when they hired him.

Foreigner - Thunder Valley Casino - Putting On The Hits In Fantastic Fashion

I'll admit that I was pretty disappointed to not see Foreigner main-man Mick Jones when the band took the stage last Friday night, but about three songs into the set, I realized that his absence did not prevent his band from putting on an absolute top shelf arena rock, greatest hits show.

Let's get a few points out of the way - this iteration of Foreigner has been together nearly ten years, and at least on tour, this is a greatest hits show (and they've had a bunch). Now, the whole classic rock band doing greatest hits tours thing can go a couple of ways. At it's worst, you've got bands filled with non-original members who have been hired for the lowest wage to crank out an uninspired show that exists only to milk fans for what they're worth. I've seen a lot of this, and I don't have to name names, but that's just the worst case scenario. At its best, you have an act like Foreigner - one original member (who did write the lion's share of their catalog), Mick Jones, who has assembled a cast of talented and inspired musicians who can play and perform not just as well as, but arguably even better than the original band.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Slash featuring Myles Kennedy & The Conspirators - World On Fire - Reaching To New Heights

Slash has perhaps made his most powerful statement since walking onto the world stage with Guns 'N' Roses Appetite For Destruction way back in 1987. He's finally once again put the whole package together, and he's got the perfect team on World On Fire helping him to put it all across.

In a world reduced to mp3 files and ear buds, it's good to hear that some bands and acts are still doing it right, and making records that sound great. Slash has raised the bar another notch higher with his new album, World On Fire. Teaming up again with Myles Kennedy and The Conspirators, and bringing on for production duties longtime Kennedy collaborator Michael "Elvis" Baskette, everyone's favorite top hat has blessed us with an album filled with great guitars (excellent riffs, solos, and songs), state of the art vocals, and a throbbing rhythm section. This record is jumping out of my ancient studio monitors, and they're howling and thumbing like a Marshall 4X12 - and that's exactly how it should be.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Randy Bachman - Still Learning New Tricks - The Rock Guitar Daily Interview

"Neil (Young) looked me dead in the eye, and he said, 'If you're gonna do a new album, don't do the same old shit and call it a new album."  
"Kevin Shirley said to me, 'If I'm going to produce you, you have to promise me one thing. That you will do everything I say, you will not interfere, and you'll keep your mouth shut.'                              
Randy Bachman has sold over 40,000,000 records. He's played before millions of adoring fans. He's been in two of classic rock's most enduring bands (The Guess Who, and Bachman Turner Overdrive), and he's done it his way, every step of the way. So, while it may seem unusual for me to start this interview with him quoting two rock icons, I think it's instructive -  in spite of unquestionable and unflagging success, Bachman still knows how to listen, and how to take heed of wise and good counsel.

Red Zone Rider - A Great Beginning

Red Zone Rider's first album is a solid success - great playing, great singing, inspired songwriting, and much promise. It may even end up in my year end Top 10.

It's somewhat apropos that this album was produced by Northern California's original metal guru, Mike Varney for Magna Carta Records, because it brings to mind many memories of NorCal giants such as Montrose, early Journey, and Y&T. Soulful, bluesy hard rock can be found here in spades, and this album is a great combination of inspired writing and stellar performances. Kelly Keeling, Vinnie Moore, and Scot Coogan have collaborated to create an excellent first effort, and a fine platform from which to build - a super solid album that has even more promise in terms of what the future may hold.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Mr. Big - ...Stories We Could Tell - The Band's Best Yet...

Mr. Big hits the nail right on the head with ...The Stories We Could Tell, the band's eighth studio outing, an album that stands proudly beside anything from their days as a platinum selling act, and might just be their best yet.

I'm not sure why, but the band sounds like they're a little hungrier on this record, and they've come out firing on all cylinders. Not that they ever fail to do yeoman like work, their last album, 2011's What If... was filled with great songs and performances, but the record sounded a bit rushed and more canned. You put on ...The Stories We Could Tell, and it sounds a lot like a band in a room looking to make things happen. Very direct, very hungry, and as always filled to the brim with great individual performances by four of rock's sharpest shooters.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

ZZ Top + Jeff Beck = Guitar Nirvana

ZZ Top/Jeff Beck
The Mountain Winery
Saratoga, California
August 12, 2014

Jeff Beck started it, ZZ Top proved it, and then they consummated the marriage - the blues did have a baby, and they called it rock 'n' roll.

The sense of awe and joy was palpable in the arena. Whether it was Jeff Beck's great band smiling ear to ear at the gift of being onstage with their boss and hero, or Billy Gibbons looks of unabashed glee at having the legendarily nimble fingered Beck as his lead guitarist for his band's encores, or Beck looking incredibly proud of his young band, and also quite chuffed to be sharing the stage with classic rock's greatest 'lil old band from Texas, it was a perfect night of guitar driven rock 'n' roll.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Paul Gilbert - Stone Pushing Uphill Man - Fun, Fun, Fun

Thanks, Paul - your new record is seriously, seriously fun.

It sounds as if, in his never ending quest to marry melody with mind-blowing chops, Paul Gilbert has allowed us into the workstation of his mind. Stone Pushing Uphill Man is his new solo instrumental record, and it's filled with familiar tunes re-done Paul-style.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Randy Bachman - Vinyl Tap Tour - Every Song Tells A Story: Pure Canadian Gold

Randy Bachman is one of those guys we all know, whether we know him, or not. His guitar, voice, and songs have been heard by countless millions of rock 'n' roll fans for coming on 50 years. First, he wrote four million selling singles with The Guess Who, then he went on to win four Juno Awards and sell millions of records with the seventies concert favorites, Bachman-Turner Overdrive. He's sold over 40 million records. He's been satirized by Homer Simpson, covered by Lenny Kravitz, and his surname was even adapted as a nom de plume by author Stephen King (Richard Bachman). Yeah, that Randy Bachman (pronounced Back-man).

If you don't know the name, you know the songs - American Woman, Takin' Care Of Business, These Eyes, You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet, No Sugar Tonight, Let It Ride, Laughing, and others are all etched in your musical memories, and Bachman has followed in the footsteps of such songwriting heavyweights as Ray Davies and Greg Lake to present his history in storyteller form with his new DVD/CD package, Vinyl Tap Tour - Every Song Tells A Story.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Walter Trout - On The Mend! - The Rock Guitar Daily Interview

Photo by Jeff Katz
Today Walter Trout is on the mend, but it was not long ago that things were looking somewhat bleak for the blues rock legend. In less than a year Walter lost over a hundred pounds, his hard earned callouses, much of his physical strength, and very nearly his life, but he came back to win the race and acquire a new liver with which to fight the good fight of recuperation, which he is now doing.

In the interim he did what he's always done - he took care of business. He wrote and recorded a new album, The Blues Came Callin', co-wrote with Henry Yates a new biography, Rescued From Reality: The Life and Times of Walter Trout, he's the subject of an in progress documentary film, and he has even managed to keep his longtime band on the road and working. He may not play a single gig this year, but he still has more than enough to keep someone quite busy, all while fighting a life threatening liver failure.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Calfornia Breed - Bonham Out, Joey Castillo In - Bonham: "I wasn't going to be bullied into touring"

Last Friday morning an ominous post showed up upon the official Facebook Page of California Breed - it stated that Joey Castillo would be appearing with the band for all announced dates.

Soon after, the band's website displayed two lineups, one with Joey Castille as the band's 'live' lineup drummer, and a second with Jason Bonham as the group's 'studio' drummer. However, by the end of the day it had unraveled, and it now appears that Bonham is clearly out, and Castillo is the new stickman for California Breed.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Dick Wagner Dead at 71 - Rest In Peace, My Friend....

I'm saddened today by the death of Dick Wagner - best known as the guitarist who co-wrote Only Women Bleed with shock rock king Alice Cooper, Wagner was one of the greatest unknown guitarists  of his era. He was 71.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Ace Frehley - Space Invader: Ace Hits A Home Run With Quintessential New York Arena Rock

Ace Frehley - a guy with a point to prove, and boy has he proved it. Space Invader is the fun rock record of the Summer of 2014. Endless riffs, stinging solos that say 'Ace,' and maybe the best sound I've heard on a hard rock mix this year. The album could have easily been called Kiss This. It's the best album out of the KISS camp since the seventies.

Before I get into this album, I gotta say that this makes my mouth drool for what could have been. If only KISS had been able to play in their original iteration at the RRHoF, the band could have called it a day that night, and been revered for the next hundred years. Sober for over seven years, Frehley is playing better than ever, and it sounds like he's having a fantastic time while he's at it. Whatever the reasons, they sure weren't about musical abilities. We'll always be the less for this tremendous missed opportunity.

That Metal Show Presents: Anthrax, Living Colour, Corey Taylor - Gig Review - Thunder Valley Casino, Northern California

Frank Bello, Corey Glover, Scott Ian
Living Colour remains to this minute one of the greatest rock bands on God's green earth, and it says much about Anthrax that they were able follow Vernon Reid's bunch onto the stage and continue to blow folks away. Corey Taylor? Scott Ian's nu-metal pal showed that he's equally at home with an acoustic guitar and a microphone as he is fronting brutally hard rock.

Classic rock and metal are alive and well in the burgeoning world of gambling and gaming. Where once these genres filled arenas and theaters, time has marched on and many great bands and shows have been relegated to being draws for casinos. The downside is the fact that like it or not, time marches on and no great music stays in the mainstream forever - the upside is that these casinos have better sound, stages, lights, and facilities than their counterparts ever had, they keep these acts earning, and they provide a place for people to see some great entertainment by some very viable bands.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Judas Priest - Redeemer Of Souls - The Pride Of Metal

Judas Priest gives a shit. They show up, they suit up, and they bring it - 40 years later they are still delivering the goods. Redeemer Of Souls is a proud testament to a band that has never rested on its laurels, and while I hope it's not their last, if it were it would be a grand way in which to go.

There's a great set of bookends happening here - frontman of frontmen Rob Halford pours his soul into every moment in an effort to prove he is still the king, and he's joined by new kid on the block Richie Faulkner, who proves his mettle by faithfully filling the metal shoes of one of the genre's legends, the now departed K.K. Downing. As one man is approaching the end of a long and unquestionably brilliant career, another has appeared to carry the torch into the future. This is a passing on of a tremendous legacy, and both men have done their best, and it's damned glorious.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Blues Pills - A Flippin' Fantastic Debut

Blues Pills have been simmering for a few years, and now with the release of their debut long player they have achieved a full boil. The nascent band of youngsters from Sweden consistently write and play beyond their years, and there's no weak links to be found - in fact, this goes straight into my top five for 2014 at this point.

No plodding blues rock to be found here, this is bluesy rock all right, but it swings and moves in a glorious manner that only makes singing sensation Elin Larsson and guitar star Dorian Sorriaux shine all the more. These two toss the spotlight back and forth like no duo in recent times, and when they riff together it's heaven. People tend to refer to new bands in old terms, and I'm OK with that, but this bunch would sound great in any era that I've lived through. Unquestionably, this is one of the most powerful debut releases in the last decade.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Overlooked/Underappreciated: 354 Recordings That Demand Your Attention by Greg Prato - A Great Reminder!

They say you should write what you know, and again and again, Greg Prato has done just that. His work has appeared in Rolling Stone, Classic Rock Magazine, and he's just released his twelfth book, Overlooked/Underappreciated: 354 Records That Demand Your Attention, a loving look at 354 undervalued albums that have left an indelible impression on the author's mind.

Greg has an very comfortable conversational manner of writing, electing to go for the direct approach, as opposed to the pseudo-intellectual, 'I'm so clever and erudite' path that so many scribes choose to meander down. This is a fun, entertaining, and educational read that will well serve those who just want good information and a little direction.

Monday, July 7, 2014

America, Meet Danny Bryant - The Rock Guitar Daily Interview

Photo by Marco van Rooijen
Danny Bryant is a very special, exciting, and exceptional musician, but his longtime relationship with blues legend Walter Trout may be even more special. In their relationship there are lessons in life itself.

Talk about your Cinderella stories - just months ago, things seemed pretty bleak in the tale of Danny Bryant and his mentor and friend, Walter Trout. The pair have been friends for twenty years, and they had hoped to tour America together in 2014, but Walter Trout's liver had other ideas, and the blues guitar legend found himself in an induced coma as his body waited on the possibility of a donor organ being found before his old liver completely surrendered. Touring wasn't even on the menu as Trout's mortal coil seemed in peril.

Well, the world wasn't quite through with Walter Trout, and Walter Trout certainly isn't through with this world. The circumstances have turned around very nicely - a donor liver was found, fans, friends and family have contributed over $240,000 to help defray the tremendous financial burdens, the surgery was a success, Walter is on the road to recovery, and now British guitar wiz Danny Bryant is coming to America for the first time to headline a month of shows fronting Walter's longtime band, and it would seem that from the ashes of what could have been a sad ending there has risen a new day's dawn.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Shell Shocked - Howard Kaylan - It's A Turtle's Life

There's a lot to be saying for being the last guy standing. This theory is put paid by Howard Kaylan's incredibly entertaining memoir, Shell Shocked. It would appear that Turtles don't move fast, but they are in for the duration.

Jim Hendrix, John Lennon, Marc Bolan, Frank Zappa, Harry Nilsson, and many other friends and associates of Kaylan's may have left us too soon, but the voice of Happy Together is still here and going strong, and we are the beneficiaries. Shell Shocked joins autobiographical treatments by such classic rockers as guitar legend Dick Wagner, and Humble Pie's Jerry Shirley as books by names you might not know, but who all helped write the book we call the history of rock 'n' roll.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Bobby Womack - Rest In Peace, Brother....A Brief Remembrance

As always, it began innocently enough. We were working behind the counter at the Guitar Center in Hollywood on Sunset Boulevard. We had just moved the store into its new mega-location from the low rent ghetto of a store I hired into, and we were getting ready for our grand opening.

I had gone off to the warehouse to count some stock, and when I returned one of my co-workers, a GIT student with silver blonde hair that was stacked to the moon and frozen in place with simple syrup was arguing with a gentleman over some pricing on a few guitar effects pedals. The man said that they were just some toys for his 'git-ar.'

Sunburst - How The Gibson Les Paul Became A Legendary Guitar - Tony Bacon

Sunburst is definitely a book to own, but it makes me pine for something more. If you've been interested in guitars for more than ten minutes, I'm sure you are familiar with Tony Bacon's works, and this is more of the same. Essential, but not exceptional. If I sound like I'm of two minds here, I most definitely am. Please read on....

Bacon is nothing if not consistent - his books are unerringly accurate, and he knows how to layout a story, but they also lend themselves to a 'just the facts, ma'am,' conclusion. He is an aggregator - there's not much here that will be revelatory, but it's a great primer and one that should be on every guitar buff's book shelf. The stories are all here, they're all accurate, and there's enough technical information in his Reference List to make this essential material for every guitar shop.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Philip Sayce - Influence - His Best Yet - The Kid Ain't Going Down, Ain't Going Away

Influence is the best record of Philip Sayce's career, edging out even last season's impeccably rocking Steamroller. Putting paid the notion that you can keep a good man down, Sayce may not have gotten the breaks with his last outing, but he's kept his nose to the grindstone, and he's combined with his producer and friend Dave Cobb to make yet another brilliant record.

Half covers/half original tunes penned by Sayce and Cobb (who also adds tasteful bass to the tracks), Influence is a brilliant production - it's sonically sensational, the arrangements are just that, and when they went to the library they scoured the shelves for rare nuggets and eschewed the temptation to rest on other hit maker's laurels. If this album doesn't make Sayce a star I'll eat my hat.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

David Grissom - Living The Guitar Life - The Rock Guitar Daily Interview

Photo by Matthew Sturtevant
"It was a long process, and I was very adamant that I had the opportunity to use it in the studio, and a lot of gigs to make sure it worked equally well in each situation, because I think if you spend that much money on an amplifier, it ought to be useful live, and in the studio, and that has not always been the case with amps in the past." ~ David Grissom on his signature series PRS amplifiers 
David Grissom truly lives the guitar life. He's played with Joe Ely, John Mellencamp, The Dixie Chicks, sessioned for the likes of Ringo Starr, Robben Ford, Chris Isaak, written hits for Trish Yearwood, Lee Ann Womack and others. He also has a solid solo career with four long players under his belt, including his latest, the excellent, How It Feels To Fly, which is a must hear that includes a half hour live set from his residency at Austin's legendary Saxon Pub, that includes a fabulous cover of ZZ Top's Funky Dogs And Nasty Kings, and a wickedly cool nine minute workout of the Allman Brothers' Jessica - oh yeah, did I mention he once subbed for Dickey Betts with the brothers?

As if that wasn't enough he's also designer of top flight gear in conjunction with Paul Reed Smith Guitars and Amps, doing almost ground-up work on his signature series DGT guitars, and the new DG Custom 30 and 50 watt powerhouse amps. He'll claim to not be a very technical guy, but by the time you're through reading you'll have a fine appreciation for his attention to the smallest details, and his innate ability to know what he wants to feel and hear from his equipment onstage, and in the studio. I've seen too many signature model instruments that just had a different finish and the star's name emblazoned upon them - it's refreshing to learn so much from someone who took the time to really make his signature models something very special.