Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Elton John at Dodger Stadium: A Show for the Aged

On this day, 35 years ago, Captain Fantastic – accompanied by his trusty sidekick the Brown Dirt Cowboy – made their way from the end of the world to my town.

My town at that time was Los Angeles and the site was Dodger Stadium. It was a sunny Southern California Sunday afternoon – like so many other beautiful late fall days on the West Coast, yet so different from any other day I had ever experienced. That’s because I was about to embark on my virgin concert experience by attending the closing day of Elton John’s two-day, sold-out stint at Dodger Stadium.

Unless a person actually lived through that time, it’s nearly impossible to imagine just how popular John was in 1975. He completely dominated the airwaves at the time, dropping a couple No. 1 albums per year and littering the landscape with hit after popular hit. His concerts were reported to be phenomenons unto themselves, with John donning outrageous costumes and delivering the songs in wildly entertaining fashion.

Not at all unlike the scene where Frances McDormand's character anxiously drops off her young, sheltered teenage son at his first rock concert in the movie "Almost Famous," I remember my own mom nervously depositing my brother, a friend and I off in front of Dodger Stadium, making sure we had sufficient change to call her from a pay phone after the concert for a ride home.

I still recall the thrill of walking into the stadium and getting my first look at the stage -- located beyond the grass where Jimmy Wynn tracked down fly balls that year for the Dodgers in center field. A large majority of the field itself was already swarmed with fans, even though the show was several hours from starting. Some passed the time by bopping beach balls around while a few of the more adventurous went soaring into the air, sent skyward by groups of people standing in circles holding a taut blanket.

It was all so ... "groovy" -- especially for a wide-eyed 15-year-old experiencing his first concert.

The opening acts on this day were Emmylou Harris, which I still consider an odd choice, and the James Gang, which featured future Eagle Joe Walsh. I don’t remember much about either set, except wishing they would end quickly so Elton could finally take the stage.

Perhaps foreshadowing a future in journalism and concert reviewing, I took along a small notebook and a pencil to document Elton's setlist. Looking at those somewhat faded pages today, I can’t help but laugh at my crude handwriting, which didn’t improve much over the years, and my spelling, which did. I am still chagrined at penning the misspelled “Philedelphia Freedom.”

Elton opened the show with a solo rendition of “Your Song,” and his piano moved slowly forward from the back left of the stage to the front as he played. He followed that up with another solo effort, the ballad “I Need You to Turn To.”

He was then joined by his band, which he had recently revamped. Immediately after becoming the first artist to ever have an album (“Captain Fantastic ... ” ) debut at No. 1 on the Billboard charts, John jettisoned the only two musicians who had been with him from the start of his touring career -- drummer Nigel Olsson and bassist Dee Murray. He replaced them, respectively, with Roger Pope and Kenny Passarelli, and bulked up with an additional guitarist, Caleb Quaye, and keyboardist James Newton Howard (who would go on to make his mark as a well-known composer in film). They joined holdovers Davey Johnstone (guitars) and Ray Cooper (percussion).

John and band took an intermission after a 10-song opening set. When John returned, he was wearing a sequined Dodgers uniform and took some awkward swings with a bat while standing on top of his piano. The band launched into “Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding” and the second, hit-heavy, set was off and roaring.

I remember special appearances by tennis star Billie Jean King and John’s partner in rhyme, lyricist Bernie Taupin. There was the song that should have been a major hit except it was never released, “Harmony,” and an odd little ditty I never much cared for but can never get out of my head once I hear it, “Dixie Lily.” I remember “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” being perfectly timed with the oncoming dusk outside the stadium. John went on to play 31 songs in a three-hour-plus performance. The show spoiled me for years – being a concert novice, I figured every band must play for a similar length. I was shocked when my second concert headliner – the Electric Light Orchestra – barely played beyond 90 minutes.

Looking back at the setlist from that day, I recognize a tactic of John’s I have noted in subsequent shows of his that I’ve attended over the years. He tends to string two or three songs from the same album together in concert – a move which I find extremely effective because certain of his albums always take me to the very specific portions of my life when they were popular. It always makes for a fun journey to take an extended musical pass through those fond memories instead of experiencing the highlights of his career as if on random play.

Of course, that observation was lost on me at the time, I was just a wide-eyed teen attending his first concert. Over the years, I’ve gone on to interview band members Johnstone and Olsson, and see John in concert on eight occasions – great times all, but somehow none can quite compare with that afternoon at Dodger Stadium when hand in hand went music and the rhyme, the Captain and the Kid, stepping in the ring.

Thirty-five years later, and I still wonder if the sixty eight summer festival wall flowers are thinning.

Elton John
Dodger Stadium
Oct. 26, 1975
(Click on highlighted links for Dodger Stadium video of those songs.)

First set
Your Song
I Need You to Turn To
Border Song
Take Me to the Pilot
Dan Dare
Country Comfort
Rocket Man
Empty Sky

Second set
Funeral For a Friend
Love Lies Bleeding

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
Bennie and the Jets
Dixie Lily
Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy
Bitter Fingers
Someone Saved My Life Tonight

The Bitch is Back
Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me
Meal Ticket
Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds
I Saw Her Standing There
Island Girl
Philadelphia Freedom
We All Fall in Love Sometimes

Tell Me When the Whistle Blows
Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting
Pinball Wizard

Setlist notes: My early Elton John album collection was not as complete at the time of this show as it is today. I originally guessed at the third song, "Burn Down the Mission" and didn't know the fourth song. I was thrilled recently to connect with a high school friend through Facebook who also wrote down a setlist that day and was able to finally confirm that the third and fourth songs were "Border Song" and "Take Me to the Pilot." (Obviously, I did not own Elton's eponymous debut U.S. album at that time, as both those songs are on there.)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

'Coast to Coast' with the Scorpions

Backstage with Scorpions lead guitarist Matthias Jabs at USANA Amphitheatre.

 Rock musicians tend to do scores of interviews when they are out on the road promoting a new album and tour, so I never assume that they will specifically remember one they did with me.

That, however, was not the case at the Scorpions’ “Get Your Sting and Blackout” farewell tour at USANA Amphitheatre in West Valley City. The concert may have been the band’s last in Utah – but it provided a first for me.

It’s the only time I can remember being openly mocked eye to eye by a rock star for a question asked in an earlier interview.

I had a 20-minute phone conversation with lead guitarist Matthias Jabs nearly two weeks before we met up backstage prior to the Scorpions’ Aug. 16 Utah date. (You can read the full interview here.) At the end of our earlier chat, I asked Jabs this question: “Of all the interviews that you’ve done over the years and the thousands of questions that you’ve been asked, what’s the one question you wish you would’ve been asked -- but never have been?”

He laughed and said the answer to that question probably doesn’t exist, essentially responding that he’d been asked every imaginable query over the years, and was holding nothing back.

Fair enough.

Klaus Meine and Matthias Jabs in concert. (Doug Fox)
On the day of the show, I had the opportunity to meet up with Jabs several hours before he and his bandmates hit the stage with “Sting in the Tail.” We were only a few generalities into our conversation when I asked if there was a certain portion of the band’s live show that had become his favorite part of the night. With a complete deadpan delivery, and tilting his head as if giving the issue serious thought, he responded, “Wow, that is a question I’ve never been asked before.”

Admittedly, I was a little slow on the uptake. My first thought centered on the irony of him answering that to such an innocuous question considering what he’d answered in our original interview. I was still trying to wrap my head around his response when I noticed the slight smile on his face. That’s when I realized he was completely toying with me. I called him on it and we both had a good laugh over it.

I don’t know if Jabs simply remembered the earlier question because he’d never encountered a similar one – or maybe the band’s management had sent him the link to the full interview for him to review before our backstage meeting. Either way, I consider it an honor that it was memorable enough for him to take a good-natured run at me with it a couple weeks later. I mean, it could have been worse. (I’d hate to be remembered, for example, as the person who asked, “If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?” during a much-mocked Super Bowl Media Day session.)

One aspect of concerts that’s always intrigued me is how bands develop their setlists. Why, for example, do certain songs seem to stick in the setlist, while other clearly fantastic tunes get dropped after a year or two, never to return? Having seen 13 Scorpions concerts on 10 different tours dating back to 1982, I can tell you that they are always going to play the songs “Blackout” and “Bad Boys Running Wild.” Now, I love those two songs, but neither was what you would consider a hit single. On the flip side, great rocking tunes like “Can’t Live Without You,” “Can’t Get Enough,” “Arizona” and “Wild Child” have all but been banished from the band’s live show. How does that happen?

Rudolf Schenker in concert. (Doug Fox)
One of my all-time favorite songs, however, the melodic instrumental jam “Coast to Coast,” has remained a concert staple. Every new tour, I’m always fearful that this will be the time the Scorps finally drop the tune, off of 1979’s “Lovedrive” album. But it is always there, usually about five to six songs in, serving as a sort of transitory bridge between the first to second third of the show.

I mentioned this to Jabs, pointing out how grateful I was that “Coast to Coast” had managed to stick in the live show all these years.

“It’s like a drum solo,” Jabs said. “We have to play it.”

But not for the reason one might think.

Besides it being a fun song to play every night, Jabs said the main reason it remains is it gives vocalist Klaus Meine a nice break early in the set. The rigors of worldwide touring, sometimes with four to five shows a week, can take a toll on a lead singer, so the band always includes “Coast to Coast” early in the set and a drum solo late as a benefit to Meine.

Klaus Meine belts out a song. (Doug Fox)
We touched on several other topics during a 10-minute chat before Jabs was called away for a scheduled phone interview from South America – where the band will be touring throughout September, before heading back to Europe in October and November. I expressed surprise that the U.S. leg of the tour was over so quickly, but Jabs explained that the band will be returning at some point to the U.S. on this final tour because, “We haven’t played everywhere yet.”

The problem with this being a farewell tour, he said, is that everybody wants you to come right away, so the band is trying to touch all its bases globally before more in-depth return visits.

Three hours after our backstage meeting, the Scorpions launched into “Coast to Coast” on stage, with Jabs and fellow guitarist Rudolf Schenker cranking out the intoxicating rhythm and trading off lead solo breaks. The crowd was fully involved, and experiencing it live – not to mention rib-rattling loud from my vantage point a mere two rows and a photo pit removed from the front speakers -- brought a big smile to my face. At one point early in the song, Jabs meandered over right in front of our location and recognized me in the crowd. He broke out in a huge grin and spontaneously pointed right at me as if to ask, “Yo ... how do you like your ‘Coast to Coast’ now?’ ”

Well done, apparently.

On top of that, I figure Matthias and I are now even – because that’s a question I’ve never been asked before.

Note: For the full concert review of the Scorpions show at USANA Amphitheatre, click here. To see video from the show, click on the following songs: "Loving You Sunday Morning," "Raised on Rock," "Blackout" and "Big City Nights."

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Monday, August 16, 2010

Styx members discuss fall tour plans

(Publicity photo by Ash Newell)

Note: Styx officially announced its fall tour plans on Aug. 4. That night, I happened to see the band in concert at Tuacahn, an outdoor amphitheater in Ivins, Utah. After the show I met up with band members James Young and Tommy Shaw backstage to get their thoughts on the tour, and in subsequent days caught up with Todd Sucherman and Lawrence Gowan. – Doug Fox

That the seeds for Styx’s ambitious fall tour plans – which will see the band perform its classic albums “The Grand Illusion” and “Pieces of Eight” in sequence and in their entirety – were sown during a tour bus discussion among band members wouldn’t necessarily surprise anybody.

That the band members didn’t belong to Styx might.

One never knows when or where inspiration may strike, but in this case, the initial idea for what will certainly prove to be one of Styx’s most memorable tours can be traced to a chat a few years ago among members of Brian Wilson’s band.

The connection? Taylor Mills, the wife of Styx drummer Todd Sucherman, is a backup singer in Wilson’s group.

So, Mills passed along the idea – which at the time just involved playing all of “The Grand Illusion” -- to her husband, who then mentioned it to Styx guitarist Tommy Shaw.

His reaction?

“I just didn’t get it,” Shaw said.

At some point along the line, Styx manager Charlie Brusco enlarged the vision by adding “Pieces of Eight” to the fray as a companion piece.

“The more we thought about it, and then when Charlie said to do two albums, then it started to make sense to me,” Shaw said, “because ‘Grand Illusion,’ there’s only seven songs on it and then the reprise at the end of it. The idea of doing ‘The Grand Illusion’ and then doing ‘Pieces of Eight’ ... in theaters, they kind of expect you to take an intermission, so that’s actually a good way of doing it.”

The person who really needed convincing was guitarist James “JY” Young.

“At first, I was very skeptical of it because not a lot of groups have charmed me to want to go hear a complete album,” said Young, who initially mentioned the planned project to me after a show on Memorial Day Weekend. “But the more I’ve whispered it to people in confidence, under penalty of death, people seem excited about it. They get to hear songs they’ve never heard us play before, and they’re going to hear albums in the order they were originally sequenced. And there seems to be some incredible charm to that, and it’s starting to sink in what it is."

“The Grand Illusion” and “Pieces of Eight” are natural companions in the Styx catalog, coming in 1977 and 1978 respectively, and paving the way for the band’s first widespread success. Once the thought crystallized of doing two albums in concert, said Shaw, there was never any doubt which two they would be.

“No, those were the two,” said Shaw when asked if there was ever any debate on the topic of other albums. “Of all of us, those were our favorite ones and chronologically they’re great because we got on kind of a roll in the studio. You know, on ‘Crystal Ball,’ we were still kind of finding our legs as a band, with me being the new guy. By the time we got to ‘Grand Illusion,’ we were all, like, locked in. And then we were still finding ourselves. So, when you listen to ‘Grand Illusion’ and then ‘Pieces of Eight’ after that, you do see the growth from one to the next. Even though ‘Grand Illusion’ was more successful, ‘Pieces of Eight’ is a growth. We were fearless on ‘Pieces of Eight.’ So to put those two together, you’ll really kind of experience the history of the band right there in one sitting.”

If Young and Shaw needed to draw any personal insight from an artist who has done the whole-album-in-concert experience, they needed to look no further than bandmate Lawrence Gowan, who marked the 25th anniversary of his solo “Strange Animal” release earlier this year by playing the record during a pair of sold-out concerts at Niagara Falls during a rare break in Styx’s touring schedule.

“The audiences were quite obvious with their approval of experiencing the entire record in order,” said Gowan, who joined Styx on keyboards and vocals in 1999. “I suppose that having it unfold as it did when they first embraced it revives that personal connection from the day when the shrink-wrap was removed and the vinyl met turntable.”

In addition to impeccable timing, another thing Sucherman brings to Styx is a fan’s perspective. Growing up in Chicago during Styx’s main chart run in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Sucherman connected with “The Grand Illusion” and “Pieces of Eight” as a pre-teen.

“Absolutely I had them and listened to them,” Sucherman said of those albums. “Many of those songs I haven’t heard in years, and I was surprised how much I remembered them when I first went to review the material. I was in bands that played “Blue Collar Man” and “Renegade” with my older brothers and older musicians back when I was 10 years old, so I do feel a connection with this music.”

If there’s a problem a band like Styx -- which also features bassist Ricky Phillips and the occasional appearance of co-founder Chuck Panozzo on bass -- faces in concert, it’s attempting to find a balance between the casual fans who come expecting to hear all the hits and the hard-core followers who want to see some deeper album material. That challenge is typically exacerbated during the summer concert season when three-tiered tours with other popular bands are the rule of the day.

“Promoters like the two- and three-band summer bills,” said Sucherman. “It’s great for the casuals to come out and have a few beers on a lovely summer night and hear an evening of hits. The hard cores want a whole night of ‘their’ band and aren’t interested in a four-hour event where they get 80 minutes of ‘their’ band. So this will hopefully draw out fans who have passed on us in recent years because it’s an event, and it’s just us. I would want to see this show if the course of my career went differently and I never ended up in this band. Of course, there’s a section of hard-cores you will never please, but pleasing all of the people all the time has yet to be accomplished by anyone in show business. I think now is a great time to do something like this, and it’s been a fun process starting to run through the material that has never been played.”

One of the most intriguing notions of this project is bringing to the stage songs that have never been played before live – either by the original recording lineup or the current incarnation. In talking with Young and Shaw, the two people who should best know, the consensus is that there are three songs from the two records which fall into that category: “Superstars,” “The Grand Finale” and “Lords of the Ring.” Songs that were played a few times, but not very often include “Castle Walls,” “I’m OK,” “Pieces of Eight” and the tranquil “Aku-Aku.”

At the time of these early August interviews, the band had only focused on working up the “Pieces of Eight” album – but Shaw already had a preferred section.

“I think my favorite part so far of it is where we do ‘Queen of Spades’ into ‘Pieces of Eight’ into ‘Aku-Aku,’ ” he said. “There’s just something about it. It kind of hearkens me back to my stoner days, you know, because back in that time, I was heavily into albums that had a lot of production and planning and that were kind of cinematic. And those songs were very cinematic. It’s such a pleasant kind of reminder of that time – and we bring our life story with us when we perform, so all of that goes back into what you’re hearing. Any of these Styx songs that we play, it’s the guys today playing it. It’s all their experiences and their ups and downs, and loves and losts, and all that sort of thing – but I think that’s part of what makes Styx enjoyable to see in person. So now we’re bringing all that to these songs, which some of them we haven’t played since we recorded them.”

Which makes them seem almost new again.

“I’m having to listen to what I played on the guitar and try and find that,” Shaw said. “It’s interesting to see what I was playing back then. It’s still me, so I can go back to it, but I’m enjoying reverse engineering some of those solos, and hear the sounds and that sort of thing.”

It was a different era of record-making back then, Shaw said, and one aspect of the project that the band is enjoying is essentially holding up a mirror to its history.

”There was a real artistry to creating an album, at least there was,” said Shaw. “We looked at it as something that had a beginning, a middle and an end – it was art. And there had to be two arts, because there’s Side A and Side B. And so we created the whole thing as a piece, not just a bunch of songs strung together. And even we had kind of forgotten ... it’s like trying to think of how you look. You know, everybody else knows what you look like, but you see a picture of yourself and you’re like, ‘That’s what I look like?’ And an album is kind of like a picture of that era, and so we started playing them, and we’re kind of, like, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s who we are. That’s where we came from.’ ”

Speaking of pictures, the band is also looking to enhance the concert experience by having a couple of LED screens that would, according to Young, show literal as well as impressionistic content.

“There’s going to be some additional artistry back there to sort of enhance the whole thing. And there’s probably going to be some archival stuff that’s going to show up on the screen that people may have never seen – um, if we can locate it,” Young said with a laugh.

Plans for the production are still taking shape, which is a fun part of the process to be in, Shaw said.

“The great thing is, we’re still discovering exactly what it’s going to be, because we’re letting it tell us what to do,” said Shaw. “We thought about maybe having a little bit of storytelling in there. There might be that. If when we get in rehearsal [we see] that it’s better if we just play the whole thing, then that’s what we’ll do. These kind of things will tell you what’s right, so we’re looking forward to that aspect of it. We’re just very excited because it’s the most unique thing we’ve ever done.”

While the entire band is now completely onboard with the project – nobody is quite certain what to expect once the tour begins Oct. 14 in Evansville, Ind.

“ ‘Grand Illusion’ and ‘Pieces of Eight,’ when played faithfully in their entirety, will undoubtedly be received as the milestone albums they are for an audience that has never tired of the Styx experience,” said Gowan.

“This is an opportunity for us to get off on playing these works in their entirety and hopefully the audience – who knows what they are about to hear – enjoys it as much,” said Sucherman. “I think it’s going to be tremendous.”

“I’m not skeptical [now] because I’m starting to suspect that it’s a matter of we’re going to make it as good as it can be, and there seems to be enthusiasm about it. ... So I don’t see how it can’t work,” said Young. “I mean, is it going to work well enough to want to do it again? I don’t know that. We’ll find that out.”

Would the tour, which currently includes 22 dates throughout the East, ever make it to other parts of the country?

“There’s no reason why we wouldn’t expand it,” said Shaw, if the scheduled dates prove successful both on stage and in the audience. “That’s another thing, we have no idea. We might show up and it’s just us there ... and we’ll eat all the popcorn!”

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Matthias Jabs: Sultan of the Scorpions' Six-String Sting

Date of interview: Aug. 3, 2010

 Matthias Jabs on the "Eye II Eye" tour. (Doug Fox)

Guitar solos are like fingerprints. Every guitarist has some, but they are highly individualized, and mostly unique to each musician’s background and style.

Guitar heroes are all immediately recognized by their signature solos – Jimmy Page in “Stairway to Heaven,” Eric Clapton in “Layla,” “Brian May in “We Will Rock You,” David Gilmour in “Comfortably Numb” and Eddie Van Halen in “Eruption.” Jimi Hendrix made his biggest statement by saluting the “Star-Spangled Banner” in feedback and distortion.

Which is why I was caught completely unaware in 1982 when I first laid ears on the guitar solo in “No One Like You.” I had no idea who this band or lead guitarist was – but what I did know was their record would be joining my collection at the first available opportunity.

That was my introduction to the Scorpions and Explorer-wielder extraordinaire Matthias Jabs.

From its opening salvo featuring a staccato burst of pinched harmonics to its ultimate explosion of melodic jam culminating in a gut-punching A-string slide, Jabs’s 34-second solo in “No One Like You” has no doubt made millions of females weak in the knees and forced as many guys into fits of air guitar fury during concerts around the world over the years.

Whether flashy (think “Rock You Like a Hurricane”) or understated (see “Your Last Song” on “Humanity: Hour 1”), Jabs’s solos not only fit the song, but they also lift it – and actually take you someplace.

In our interview, Jabs (calling from a concert stop in Las Vegas, Nev.) talks about the Scorpions’ farewell tour in support of “Sting in the Tail,” his use of the talkbox to enhance the atmosphere of certain songs, the melodic nature of his playing, why he doesn’t have many songwriting credits with the Scorpions and what happened with his iconic black-and-yellow-striped stage outfit from the mid-1980s.

However, since my indelible introduction to the Scorpions came with Jabs’s solo in “No One Like You” – that seemed like a good place to start our discussion.

Doug Fox: I’ve been a Scorpions fan for nearly 30 years and I can trace that back to one specific event -- the very first time I heard the guitar solo in “No One Like You.”

Matthias Jabs: Yeah?

DF: It’s one of the few guitar solos that I can remember exactly where I was when I first heard it. After hearing that, I said, “I’ve got to go out and get this album from a band I haven’t heard of before.” That was one of the band’s breakout hits in the U.S., but, to me, your solo really makes the song.

Jabs: Yeah, that’s nice to know. Actually, I heard, like, radio commercials for our shows that just had the intro, and not even vocals in there. So obviously, that’s already good enough to promote the show, or that song, or that album or whatever. So, that’s nice. Yeah, 30 years later, here we are.

DF: I was wondering if you could tell me about the creation of that solo – was it something you worked a lot on to get everything just how you wanted or was it more spontaneous and in the moment?

Jabs: No, it was like ... you know, in a good song, there’s more than one melody and usually the better the song, the easier it is to find the right additional melodies for it, and somehow that melody is well hidden in the chorus melody of the vocal, and I just developed it. But I worked out one. And when I had the main melody with all the phrasing, then I worked on the harmonies, too. But it was inspiring to begin with, you know, when I heard the song the first time. It had a working title back then, I think it was “Talk About You” or something, you know, before it was called “No One Like You,” and already, I said instantly, “Guys, I think we’ve got something here,” and when you have that feeling, then you put extra effort in to find the right components. And so with this one I knew it’s worth working out the guitar parts like they are today until they are really convincing.

DF: I’ve got to say that from the first note to that nasty slide you do at the end -- it’s, like, pure perfection.

Jabs: Can you play it?

DF: No, I play a little bit -- but I would like to.

Jabs: Yeah.

DF: Well, you have been in the United States for several weeks now, how are the fans reacting to this, your final tour?

Jabs: Excellent. I mean, we started out on the East Coast in the middle of June, and, traditionally, we were always stronger in the Southwest, where we are now, or all of the West Coast and, like, up to Chicago, but this time, with a fantastic reaction and lots and lots of people in New Jersey and Philadelphia and wherever, New York even. So it’s been like this on the whole tour now, great reactions from the fans, great shows and lots of people. So we are very happy with this, especially when we hear, “Oh, there’s a crisis and many bands have to cancel” or, “Shows are not doing so well.” But with us, I’m sure it helps when we say it’s the farewell tour. But we are getting people convinced to come out and see us one last time. It works well. It’s great fun, and we don’t think about, like, that it’s the last time every night. We just enjoy it so much that it seems like it’s normal [just] the beginning of a long tour, which is actually true. But the thought which we were afraid we would have every night, “Oh, bye-bye [said in melodramatic voice],” you know, that doesn’t really fly at the moment. It’s too much fun.

DF: I’ve got to say, as far as your manager [Peter Amend], you know, I’ve read how he brought up the idea to retire with this album and tour to you guys -- I’m not quite sure if I should love this guy or hate him!

Jabs: I was never sure about that either [laughs] -- even before he came up with the idea. I mean, it makes sense. There’s a certain logic to it as well. He argued, like, “OK, you have a strong album,” when he heard, you know, not the final mixes, but it came up when we played the music to him at the record company over in Europe, and everybody was so excited, “Oh, great new album!” And he came back a couple days later and [said] “The album is great. If you now go on the road ... ” and the previous tour took us like two and a half years around the world. He said, “This will be the same, two and a half, maybe three years, but if you call it the last tour and the last album, it will be exciting. It will be hard to top anyway in three, four years from now.” He said, “Do the math. You know, Klaus and Rudolf are already 62 years old, so by the time we are done with this whole tour, they’re like close to 65. Then you take a break, you start writing songs, you go back to the studio, the old routine. By the time it comes out, they’re 67 or something. And by the time that this tour would be over, they would be, like, close to 70.” And you wonder if it makes so much sense to sing ‘Bad Boys Running Wild’ when you are close to 70. I mean, at the moment, I must say nobody looks 62. And we are well fit and in great shape. Touring is like a workout program anyway, so we are getting more and more in good shape. So at the moment, everything is fine. And the idea was, OK, let’s leave a last impression to the fans that the Scorpions were already a great live band and we don’t want to limp around one day being close to 70 and create some kind of an embarrassment. Because sometimes some bands, I must say without mentioning any names, but some bands, they should have stopped some time ago. You know what I mean?

DF: Yes. Well, I’ve got to give your manager credit, because as you mentioned in talking about your shows in the U.S. so far, I think it has created a lot of momentum for you guys in being able to get a lot of people interested in seeing the band again.

Jabs: Yes.

DF: There are so many good songs on the new album -- which ones are you having the most fun playing live?

Jabs: We play, at the moment, three or four. You know, we change the setlist around a little bit once in a while to keep it interesting. But the four songs we play live are the title track, “Sting in the Tail,” that’s the opening song and always will be for this leg, and we also play “Raised on Rock,” the first single on the album, which goes down very well. And we play sometimes “The Good Die Young,” which is [Track] No. 4, and sometimes we don’t. And then, what has surprised me, the last song, “The Best is Yet to Come,” which I assume if we have, let’s say, 10,000 people in the audience that maybe -- it’s my guess, what do I know? -- but maybe 500 to a thousand have bought the new album at the most. The others could come from, like, “Yeah, I’ve been coming to the Scorpions since ... ” but everybody is singing it. So I’m thinking, and nobody plays it on the radio, but it’s amazing how everybody is singing that song, “The Best is Yet to Come.” You will see. So we play those four new tracks and they blend in very well with, like, anything from the ’80s or ’90s, so that’s all very good.

DF: Now, “Raised on Rock,” that you mentioned, has some great talkbox on it that really adds to the song. I’ve really liked your use of the talkbox over the years, you kind of sprinkle it on songs here and there, but never to the point where it feels overused or kind of becomes a gimmick. But I’m wondering, where did your love of the talkbox come from?

Jabs: I played if for the first time in late 1979 when we recorded “Animal Magnetism” for the song “The Zoo.” Because “The Zoo,” it talks about that creepy 42nd Street in New York, back then, now they’ve cleaned it up. We don’t even recognize it anymore because we looked for it when we were in New York just a couple weeks ago. And so, this song had, like, this creepy atmosphere, and to enhance this, to add something to it, because it was all the drug dealers, and all that, you know, sleazy, creepy feel in clubs and
whatever. “What can I do,” was the thought, “to enhance this musically?” And so the talkbox came to my mind. It was the first time I ever played it. And so I added just touches to it. Later on in the live version of “The Zoo,” like on “World Wide Live” or the way we still play it today, it’s an extended solo, but back then it was just there to enhance this atmosphere. And then, meanwhile, I used it in a couple songs, you know, not every album, if we played that would be like, “Ewwwwww,” But wherever it’s right, and on the new album we’ve found, like, for two songs it’s right -- “Raised on Rock” and “Slave Me,” there’s also talkbox in there -- and I just play in “Slave Me,” like the chorus riff with a talkbox as well. It adds a certain atmosphere, which I always like.

DF: That’s interesting to me that you had never played it before you played it on “The Zoo.” I assumed that you had probably had a lot of experience with it before then.

Jabs: You know, the thing with the talkbox is you cannot just set it up at home and play with it. It works in a way ... I have different ways of doing it today, but basically you need an amp and you need a speaker cabinet or the talkbox, which is something like a speaker. Therefore, you need to set it up, and it’s very loud. Even without amplification, the talkbox is so loud that, you know, if you don’t live on a ranch by yourself in the desert, the neighbors will come [complain]. It’s nothing to really rehearse at home.

DF: All right, interesting. Now, when you joined the Scorpions, of course, they were already a somewhat established band, but to me, what you really brought was great melodicism as a lead guitarist. No matter how hard rocking the rhythm of a song may be, whether it’s like “Rock You Like a Hurricane” or “Dynamite” your lead playing is so melodic that it totally ties everything together and makes it really accessible. It’s no coincidence that the band’s biggest hits started after the time you joined. Where does the melodic nature of your playing come from?

Jabs: I had it already, like, in the local bands I played before the Scorpions. There’s even one recording on a 45 vinyl and what you hear is a melodic in harmony-played guitar melody. You know, I brought this style to the Scorpions, I had it already before. Wherever it comes from, I don’t know. It’s what I like. And as I mentioned before with “No One Like You,” for me, guitar playing is, OK, it’s fun to be a bit flashy once in a while, but mainly, guitar playing to me is making music. And therefore, I play, like, what I feel is the best for the song. And even in a guitar solo, I think the song should continue, and not just, like, “Here’s a break.” And how radio treats guitar solos many times, “Here, just cut it out” because it’s some guitar player playing something. But if the song continues because of the guitar playing, then it’s even much better. And that’s how I treat it.

DF: Yes, it really comes across. I think it’s part of the band’s signature sound that way.

Jabs: Yeah, I mean, when I joined, I think for the first time the Scorpions felt like we were a unit, you know, a real band. And before, they made interesting music, but it was always two different styles within one band. Because of the previous guitar player, Uli [Jon Roth], who was so Hendrix-oriented that you could tell, “Here’s an Uli song, and there’s a Klaus and Rudolf song. So, you know, everybody admits that was a difficult time and it was two different styles at once, and as soon as I joined we sounded, yeah, like a unit.

DF: It’s interesting you mention the Klaus and Rudolf songs, because here’s something I’ve wondered over the years. Obviously, there’s no question that your playing has made the band more of a unit and has developed that sound, but I look over the writing credits in the Scorpions’ catalog, I don’t see very many from you, especially as many as somebody might expect for somebody who has such an impact ...

Jabs: You know, it is about how the band, or the other writers see it. Unfortunately, I must say, within Scorpions, it’s like all the stuff I add, for example, they consider as arrangements -- while in other bands, I know that the people go, “OK, whoever contributes something gets a share as a writer.” So, like, Van Halen used to do that in the beginning. It was always like four guys, always equal. Because all four do whatever they do. And when I joined, which is a long time ago, it was already established that whoever has the main, basic idea is the songwriter, and everything else is arrangement. So, there’s nothing you can do.

DF: So, you’re definitely writing a lot, it’s just not showing up that way.

Jabs: Absolutely.

DF: Another thing I thought you brought to the Scorpions was one of rock’s iconic stage outfits -- the one with the matching yellow-and black-striped pants and arm bands.

Jabs: Yeah.

DF: It’s too bad Stryper had to copy that.

Jabs: Exactly! I mean, as soon as I saw the Stryper album cover, everything striped in yellow and black, I took the stuff off and never used it again [laughs]. How original can a band be [laughs]?

DF: I was wondering, where did that outfit end up?

Jabs: Actually, that’s a good question. I think I donated it to some charity, which we did a lot in the ’80s, and I wasn’t really thinking about stuff, like, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, where they’re asking for it. I donated -- not donated, I loaned -- the guitar, my first Explorer, the one I played “No One Like You” and “Rock You Like a Hurricane” ...

DF: The Explorer 90?

Jabs: No, the one before, the first one, which I played “No One Like You,” for example, or “Rock You Like a Hurricane” or “Still Loving You,” all the early ’80s stuff -- that’s one in the original size. Ninety stands for 90 percent of the size, which I came up with later. But it’s at the moment in Cleveland and they want to display it, but they also wanted to have the black-and-yellow-striped pants, and I went, “OK, I’m not at home so I don’t know where to look for it at the moment because I’m on tour.” But I’m afraid I’ve given it away already.

DF: Can you imagine the reaction if you broke those out on a few dates of this last tour?

Jabs: I know! But, secretly, I wear black pants with tiny little yellow thingies here and there. It’s a hint, a micro-hint thought of it, but not in the same way.

DF: One of my favorite songs has always been “When the Smoke is Going Down” ...

Jabs: Yeah.

DF: It’s got such great imagery to it, what’s captured in the lyrics. I’m wondering, now that the smoke is kind of going down on the history of the band, does that song take on any added meaning for you guys?

Jabs: Um, no, not in that sense. We used to play it in recent years, on the last tour, for example, we used to play it as an additional song, like, after the last encore. We came out one more time, like the lyrics in the song describe, but with the audience still in there. It’s about, you know, everybody has left the place and then the vibe and everything is still in the building, but we played it as the very last song. And usually the towel wrapped around the neck, like, you know, if you come back from the dressing room -- and that went down very well. It’s a nice song to play live. Yeah, you wonder. We are not playing it at the moment, and I don’t know if the smoke is already coming down, it still feels like we are at the beginning of the last adventure, but I know exactly what you mean.

DF: So the smoke is floating around waiting ...

Jabs: Yes, it’s still floating [laughs].

DF: Hey, do you have any specific memories of concerts that you’ve had in Utah?

Jabs: Yeah, I mean, I remember, I guess, almost all of the shows we’ve played in Salt Lake City. We’ve been there quite a few times, though, over the years -- but I don’t think we have played that amphitheater [USANA Amphitheatre] where we play this time.

DF: You have not, that’s correct.

Jabs: Is it new?

DF: It’s new for ...

Jabs: For the Olympics maybe?

DF: No, it came after the Olympics.

Jabs: OK.

DF: I’m trying to remember ... the last time you came here was on the “Unbreakable” tour, and you played at the E Center, which was made for the Olympics.

Jabs: Yes, OK.

DF: And this was built after that time.

Jabs: OK, is it a nice one?

DF: Yeah, yeah.

Jabs: Good. Great.

DF: As guitar players, you and Rudolf have really carved out the sound the Scorpions are known for. How do your styles of playing differ and how do they complement each other?

Matthias Jabs and Rudolf Schenker "Face the Heat" in 1994. (Robb Hicken)
Below, Schenker on the "Unbreakable" tour in 2004. (Doug Fox)

Jabs: We really are different as guitar players, which makes it easier to work together, because it’s basically decided up front who plays what. That makes it easier. Rudolf likes playing the rhythms, even though I play the rhythms as well, I can tell you for the last two albums, I laid down all the rhythm guitars first. So everybody knows exactly how it goes, how the groove is meant to be and how, in case somebody, like a producer, wants to edit something, then he has, like, an editing reference. So, like I said, it’s for a few years that I’ve even put down the rhythms first, but then we work on the overall guitar arrangement and sometimes, it’s, like, if you, on the new album, for example, go to “Lorelei,” it’s one of those ballads, if you listen carefully, there’s like so many different guitars that blend into each other. I used, I think, at least eight different guitars, including the acoustics, so stuff like that, it takes a little bit of time to work it all out and make it sound nice. That’s not the typical song where you go, OK, like in the title song, I put down the rhythm and 10 minutes later, “OK, guys, this is how we do it.” You know, that’s an easy one to play. But, you know, some of the songs, they really need an arrangement, a guitar arrangement. But to your question, basically Rudolf doesn’t play lead at all, I would say, lately. And he played it in a few songs, usually the
ballads, never in fast songs, so that’s why it’s, like, decided. Over the many years we know who has his strengths where and for what type of song, so it makes it easy. Different than, I guess, if we have a band where both guitar players are, like, equal in what they do, then they have to probably find out, “OK, your idea is better than mine, that’s why you play this.” So we don’t have that that much.

DF: Of all the interviews that you’ve done over the years and the thousands of questions that you’ve been asked, what’s the one question you wish you would’ve been asked -- but never have been?

Jabs: Oh ... I don’t think that exists! [laughs] If so, I couldn’t think of any -- or I would have thought about it much earlier. I don’t think there is a question which hasn’t been asked. Maybe you’ve surprised me now! [laughs]

DF: Maybe this is it?

Jabs: Yes, this is probably it.

DF: There’s not something you’ve always wanted to talk about, but nobody’s asked you about it?

Jabs: No, I mean, I could just start talking about it -- if I really had the desire to talk about something.

To read my post-concert post, including details of a backstage meetup with Jabs, click here.

Read the story based on this interview.

Like The Editing Room Floor on Facebook: CLICK HERE.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Seriously ... Rush has a sense of humor

When it comes to musicianship, the members of Rush are stone-cold serious.

That’s pretty much the attitude Geddy Lee (bass and vocals), Alex Lifeson (guitars) and Neal Peart (drums) convey while playing three-plus hours every night on tour. There is no running ’round the stage. There is no jumping around. There is no playing up to the crowd in an attempt to milk applause.

In fact, on Thursday night at USANA Amphitheatre, when Lee ambled over from his stage left homebase to stand in front of Peart’s drum kit and literally jumped with slightly bended knees before landing to signal the end of rocking tune “Limelight” (probably my personal favorite Rush song), I actually recorded it in my notebook – just because the slight sign of exuberance was so out of the ordinary.

Peart is as good of a rock ’n’ roll drummer as you’ll ever find. In fact, if you are at a Rush show and don’t make the effort to simply watch him for minutes at a time, you are cheating yourself out of a major highlight. The only real concession Peart makes to showmanship is the occasional drumstick toss in mid-air and mid-beat. All of a sudden a stick flies upward, end over end, then drops right back to him as he grabs it and continues on. Of course, he has maintained the beat with his left hand and feet the entire time. He executed the maneuver three or four times, once even catching the wayward stick behind his head (not sure if that was intentional, but it was impressive).

When it came to his drum solo, he mesmerized the crowd for seven tantalizing minutes, with the entire kit rotating halfway around partway through, and he even accompanied himself by triggering a horn section. Still, when his solo actually ended, there was no standing and beating his chest while soaking up the applause of an appreciative audience – as most drummers rightfully do in concert. No, the lights over his kit went out, and he immediately turned and exited the stage as Lifeson began playing an acoustic guitar solo that eventually led into the full-band rendition of “Closer to the Heart.”

Yes, when it comes to musicianship, the members of Rush are stone-cold serious. But when it comes to videos, they can be flat-out hilarious. Audience laughs were flowing during three video segments Thursday. There was a six-minute clip that preceded the show, leading into opening number “The Spirit of Radio.” It featured Lee as a quirky diner operator, where he was serving Peart (dressed up as an Irish cop) and Lifeson, nearly unrecognizable in a fat suit, as a band auditioned by playing a polka version of “The Spirit of Radio.”

A three-minute video opened the second set, and spoofed the making of music videos to the tune of “Tom Sawyer,” which would be the next live song. Both videos played off the time travel element, tying into Rush’s Time Machine tour theme.

To close things out, there was another six-minute production that started after the band left the stage at the end of the night following “Working Man.” This production was an elaborate takeoff of the movie “I Love You, Man” and featured the show’s stars, Jason Segal and Paul Rudd, as backstage crashers who end up encountering the members of Rush in the band’s personal hospitality room. My favorite moment occurred when the band was preparing to enter the hospitality room and someone mentioned that they had counted 13 women in the audience that night.

“Thirteen females at a Rush concert?” deadpanned Peart. “That must be some kind of record.”

Just goes to show that the band is aware of its reputation and is willing to have a little fun with it.

My published review of the Rush show is available here: http://www.heraldextra.com/entertainment/music/article_d82fd1ea-a17c-11df-9c74-001cc4c03286.html?oCampaign=hottopics

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Pearls of wisdom from George Lynch

Date of interview: July 14, 2010

For the past six years, I have been wearing out Track 3 of George Lynch's 2004 covers solo album, "Furious George."

Which begs the question, "Can you really wear out portions of a CD by playing them over and over again?

Had this been a vinyl album, like the old days, the groove on the record surely would have worn down. Had it been a cassette, the tape would certainly have been stretched thin. Luckily, it was on CD, and as near as I can tell, the third track -- Lynch's searing version of "All Along the Watchtower" -- sounds as pristine today as the day I first heard it.

There's just something about Lynch's eviscerating leads and solos in this song that compel multiple listens whenever I slide the CD in. I could envision Lynch locked away in his studio for days, throwing down multiple riffs and fiery fills until meticulously nailing just the right one. The end result is not only an homage to the Hendrix version, but it also takes it to places Jimi could not even have envisioned when he recorded it in 1968.

But I was sadly mistaken. Turns out Lynch's cover of "All Along the Watchtower" was simply another day in the office for the former Dokken guitarist, as he explained when we discussed the song. Further taking a wrecking ball to my mental myth, Lynch said the record company basically forced him to record it, and some other more well-known tunes, instead of all the obscure influential covers he originally wanted to do.

No matter. To my ears, Lynch's is still the best version of that oft-covered tune ever recorded -- whether that be on vinyl, 8-track, cassette, CD or thin air.

George's current project, Lynch Mob, appears Friday at Club Vegas in Salt Lake City, along with the Michael Schenker Group. In this interview, Lynch discusses his reunion with original Lynch Mob vocalist Oni Logan, the band's new album, the camaraderie he shares with other rock guitar players and much, much more.

He also offers a bit of advice: Avoid the oyster bar at a famous franchise named after owls.

Daily Herald: OK. I just wanted to say that it’s a pleasure for me to talk to you. You’re one of my favorite guitarists of all time, so I’m thankful for the chance for you to spend a few minutes.

George Lynch: Oh, no problem, thanks.

DH: Well, first of all, where am I reaching you today? Are you in your home state?

Lynch: Yeah, I live in L.A. and then we also have a place out in an area called Joshua Tree.

DH: You know, my family, growing up, used to have a cabin out in Joshua Tree. I used to love it out there.

Lynch: Get out!

DH: It’s probably changed a lot over the years.

Lynch: Well, Joshua Tree itself has stayed relatively small fortunately.

DH: Oh, good.

Lynch: But the areas around it have blown up quite a bit, unfortunately. But we’re really off the beaten path. We’re up in an area called Gamma Gulch, which is kind of in the middle of nowhere. In fact, people that go out there, like, can’t believe it. “You actually live here?” It’s an old homestead property that the government was giving away in the 50s, if you just go throw a shack up there and whatever, you get the 5 acres. So we got one of those grandfathered down to us. It’s pretty awesome. It’s beautiful. It’s just all boulders and solar panels and we’ve got a studio built in a bomb shelter — which the bomb shelter was already there, I didn’t build it. I’m not that paranoid.

DH: That’s cool. You must have an affinity for the desert because you used to live in Arizona for a while didn’t you?

Lynch: I lived in Cave Creek, Arizona, for 13 years. I do love the desert, it’s definitely in my bones. But, you know, I’ve tried moving away and I always end up coming back to L.A. because that’s where the music business is, you know?

DH: Right. Exactly. Now I don’t know if you remember this, but the last time you were scheduled to play in Salt Lake, you ended up suffering from food poisoning and having to cancel the show.

Lynch: I’ve got a recommendation for all your [readers]. I don’t know if there’s any Hooters in Utah, I doubt it ...

DH: There is one.

Lynch: Yeah. Don’t go to Hooters and eat the oysters. I mean, I have never dropped a show in my life, I don’t think, other than when I’ve gotten violently ill on stage, which has happened a couple of times when they had to drag me to the hospital for, like, collapsing on stage. But other than that, I’ve never missed a show, like, not feeling well. But in this instance, I guess we had just deadheaded from some place a couple of days before up in the Northwest. And you’d think the oysters would be OK up there ... and I never thought about it, and then a day and a half, or a day later, whatever, I was so violently sick. I could not get up. I couldn’t move. I was just lying on the floor in the back of the bus and I could not move. It was like I had 200 pounds of lead weights on me. It was the most bizarre feeling, and these people rushed me to the hospital, and I guess I had food poisoning and was dehydrated and so forth. But I couldn’t physically, no way could I have held a guitar and played it. It was killing me that I couldn’t do that. We feel like we still owe Salt Lake a show, so we’re coming back, you know, [nearly] seven years later to fulfill our obligation.

DH: Unless I’ve somehow missed you coming to Utah in between there, I think that was the last time ...

Lynch: You know, I love playing the West and the Southwest, to me I enjoy it because of the drives and just being there. And we always end up just working in the Northeast and the Midwest and the Southeast – and I’d rather go someplace else [too]. It’s really unfortunate. The problem with the West is it’s so spread out, it’s really hard to tour there economically. I mean, you’ve got these massive transits in between. Like I said before we started interviewing, to get to you, we’ve got to drive from Wisconsin. It’s a two-day drive, so ... it’s tough, but it’s worth it. I love it there.

DH: I remember the support band was on [the night you got sick] and they just kept playing and playing and everybody was like, “Why are they playing for so long?” I think they were still hoping you were going to make it.

Lynch: Kind of like a Blues Brothers, huh? (laughs)

DH: Well, anyway, so you’re just a few days away from the start of your summer tour, are you in rehearsals now?

Lynch: Actually, today is the first day of rehearsals. I mean, the guys in this band, we’ve got Brian Tichy, who is on drums, who was in Foreigner, Billy Idol, Ozzy. He just got hired for Whitesnake, so he’ll be leaving our band next year. And the bass player Michael Devin, played with Kenny Wayne Shepherd for five years and he just got hired to do the Zeppelin Experience with [Jason] Bonham, and a big huge production. The good news for these guys is they’re pros and they’re really doing wonderful things. The bad news for me is that I’m losing half my band next year. So to see this band in this form you’ve got to see us this year, you know.

DH: I was going to say that on the new record, I read that you had Marco [Mendoza] and Scott [Coogan] and I noticed it had been changed to Michael and Brian.

Lynch: It might go back to Scott and Marco, I’ve actually been talking to them. Scott has been in Ace Frehley. And Marco, since he left Lynch Mob, has been in Thin Lizzy, Neal Schon and now he is with Ted Nugent, playing with my old drummer Mick Brown. Small world, huh?

DH: Yeah, and Brian, of course, was in Foreigner with [former Dokken bassist] Jeff [Pilson].

Lynch: Yes he was. We all kind of live up here in the same area, which is pretty interesting. Jeff lives a few miles from me and Brian lives a few miles from me, so we’re all kind close-knit here, so we might as well be in a band together if we’re neighbors.

DH: Have you done shows with Michael and Brian yet with Lynch Mob?

Lynch: Yeah. We’ve done quite a few shows.

DH: So they’re not just joining in time for this tour?

Lynch: No. And Brian will be in the band the rest of the year, and we are going to Europe in October and November. Marco may come in and replace Michael Devin for the European tour, and if things kind of work out the way I hope, we’ll get the band back together next year that was on the record, which is interesting.

DH: I guess the other constant besides you is Oni, can you talk about him rejoining the band again after so many years?

Lynch: Well, the big obstacle to getting back together with Oni is the fact that he lives in Switzerland, somewhere in the middle of the Alps. So, it’s a really long commute (laughs). I mean, when you think of a band, you’re hanging out together, you’re practicing, writing songs — well, that can’t really occur with him because of his situation. It’s difficult. Every time we need to go on tour, we have to fly him halfway around the world and he has to leave his family, which is hard for him. But it’s wonderful because as soon as we sat down together, after being back together, it was like we never skipped a beat. It was just going back to the 1990s. It was weird.

DH: Well, I did see you guys on that one tour, the Wicked Sensation tour, it was very good.

Lynch: He’s a much better singer than he was back then, thankfully.

DH: Now, that was part of the problem with the breakup, wasn’t it one of the issues?

Lynch: It was. And he would admit that. I felt bad for him, I mean, we really wanted the best for him. But, for whatever reason, it was dropping every show. It was pretty painful. The last straw was we did a show on ABC, you know, we played with Lenny Kravitz and the Cult, and our management company was there ... and it was a big deal, televised all over the country or wherever, and he just couldn’t even sing — couldn’t even sing a note. At that point it was like, “Well, what do we do? We have to do something.” So we did what we had to do. It was unfortunate, but since then, he’s really taken care of himself, and he doesn’t miss a beat. I mean, it’s awesome now. He sings everything, his range isn’t quite what it was, but that’s OK. He’s really perfected what he does to the point that he’s a definite consummate professional now. He goes out there and delivers a really strong show every night.

DH: I’ve read where you’ve said that the “Smoke and Mirrors” album, that this is the album that should have really been the original followup to “Wicked Sensation.” Now, obviously, a part of that is natural with Oni being back in the band, but I’ve got to think there’s a lot more to it than just that aspect of it.

Lynch: Well, you think a lot about the record you’re going to make, obviously, and you have a lot of ideas, and you’re throwing down riffs and beats and trying to put songs together and make arrangements and everything, and some things go a little left and some things go a little right, and what we tried to do was make the “Smoke and Mirrors” record be the natural evolution of the first record. I mean, we had that in the forefront of our minds when we were writing, obviously. But when I write with Oni, if I write something that’s maybe too modern sounding or maybe just too simple or dumb, you know, he won’t let it get by you. He’s very focused on what it is he feels he wants to do. So I write for him. And that’s the direction I need. In that sense, he acts as sort of a control factor and a producer in a sense. You know, I write a certain way with him. I write the music, most of it, and he takes it from there. In any band that I’m in, that’s usually how it works. So, I write completely different depending on the chemistry of the writing partners. And with him and I, that’s just the kind of music we make together, you know?

DH: There’s some great tunes on “Smoke and Mirrors,” ones that sound like they would translate into being great live songs. Are there any that have already become a favorite for you to perform?

Lynch: Well, we do a couple that are off the new record that are real long extended jams, and I prefer those because it’s fun to stretch out ­— especially with Brian, because Oni just kind of steps off, and we just go off, and it’s great. The reason it works is because Brian is a really good guitar player and an amazing drummer. And he’s the kind of drummer, because he’s a guitar player, he listens to the guitar player, and he’s right there with you the whole time. And for me, that’s been sort of my ongoing movie in my head of this perfect live performance that’s kind of a Band of Gypsies-esque thing where it’s just sort of unconscious, Zen-like jam music. Like Phish or Govt. Mule, Hendrix Band of Gypsies as I said ... or Cream jam. You’re feeding off each other and it’s just kind of going places and everybody’s kind of getting it and listening and following along, without knowing where you’re going. Which, for a musician, is really a wonderful experience. I mean, it’s a totally different thing than just playing the songs hundreds of times the same way. That’s probably better for the audience, but for us, sometimes you just enjoy improvising.

DH: I was going to ask which of those songs you were extending the jams out, but it would seem to me that “Let the Music Be Your Master” would be a great fit for something like that. It’s got that feel already to it.

Lynch: Yeah, our Ted Nugent ripoff? (laughs) “Stranglehold”? Right. Yeah, that’s one of them. We do that, but we mix it up every night. We do it with “Wicked [Sensation].” We do it with “River of Love” and another song off the new record, but I can’t remember the name of it, and “Mr. Scary.” At the end of “Mr. Scary” we just kind of add a whole ‘nother 10 minutes (laughs). Then we do this other thing, at least on the last tour we did, we had a couple of riffs that we cobbled together and I play slide and do this echo thing, you know, it’s kind of different every night and it’s a lot of fun and people react well to it, which is surprising because when we used to try and jam in Dokken people usually didn’t respond as well.

DH: That’s interesting ...

Lynch: We’re like, “What was that? Maybe go get a hot dog or go to the bathroom. What was the point?”

DH: I don’t know. My initial reaction to that would be that I guess the people that are coming to see you in Lynch Mob are the real guitar-oriented fans, not that they would necessarily expect that, but they’d probably really enjoy that aspect of it right there along with you.

Lynch: Well, there’s different kinds of listeners. I mean, there’s people that are just there to hear the songs that they know, and there’s many musicians that are getting off on the performance, and everything in between. Personally, from my vantage point, I love going and seeing a band that stretches out and hearing the songs as well, you know, so a little of both.

DH: You hooked me with your guitar playing back in Dokken, the specific song was “The Hunter” and you’ve got such a great tone and fantastic solos, I was wondering if there are any guitarists out there that when you first heard them, they really challenged you or inspired you to kind of look at how you played differently or to light a spark under you or anything like that?

Lynch: So many, we don’t have enough time to list them. You can pretty much name a guitar player that is well-known from the ’60s and ’70s, and the ’80s and the ’90s (laughs). I was learning from them and was a fan of all of theirs. Everybody from Hendrix, Beck, Page and Clapton in the early days to, you know, Eddie came along, and Yngwie came along and everybody in between from John McLaughlin to Allan Holdsworth to lesser-known guys, Billy Gibbons, Leslie West, Michael Schenker, Ritchie Blackmore, they all influenced me. Johnny Winter, all huge influences, and all the records, I played to them all the time. Now more contemporary guys, obviously, that are out there, metal guys, they’re from Jeff Loomis from Nevermore, Alexi Laiho from Children of Bodom – there’s so many awesome players out there, you know metal guys, that are just shredding it up and it’s just a whole new world out there with guitar playing. These guys are so technical. It’s kind of scary.

DH: So you still get pushed even today?

Lynch: Oh, more so today ... there’s as much pressure today as there was back in the latter part of the ’80s when that was all just coming to a head. All these guys were just getting faster and faster and more technical and more proficient – until it imploded. We’re at that level now, except I don’t think it’s going to implode. I don’t know where it’s going to go. I mean, like the kid in Ozzy now ... unbelievable. They grew up with maybe Eddie or maybe Yngwie, and that’s where they started — and then they took it from there. I grew up with the Beatles, you know, that’s where I started.

DH: Speaking of which, I’m seeing Paul McCartney in concert tonight, he’s playing in Salt Lake.

Lynch: Oh, his guitar player, we used to be in a band in the L.A. area back in the ’70s that we used to play with a lot. Rusty Anderson. He was in a band, I can’t remember the name of the band off the top of my head, but they were kind of a contemporary of ours in the L.A. area and we would play lots of shows with them, out there playing the same gigs, playing to the same crowd. It was pretty interesting. And I ran into him a few years ago at A&M Studios and he’s like, “You don’t remember me do you? I’m Rusty Anderson” from whatever the name of the band was. I went, “You’ve got to be kidding.” “Yeah, I’ve been playing with Paul McCartney for a decade and a half.” Pretty good gig, huh? He’s a great player.

DH: It is amazing how small the music world is, all these people that you’ve been talking about and how they interconnect.

Lynch: Well, it is cool because you’re kind of a member of a club once you kind of arrive, you know. And so I get to be part of that club, whether I feel like I deserve it or not, it’s still cool, I take advantage of it and I get to hang out and talk and communicate with all these guys like Jerry Cantrell and Beck, who lives down the street from me, and Slash and whoever else, you know. We’re all kind of in the same world. But it’s kind of interesting, guitar players have always been very competitive, but at the same time there’s this camaraderie there too, you know.

DH: You mentioned Michael Schenker, and this tour you’re going out with him. Are you the type that you will be out there checking out his sets also?

Lynch: Oh, of course. But I’ve toured with him twice before and he’s actually wonderful to tour with because he doesn’t play games like sandbagging and basically crushing the opening act to make yourself look better, which is something that some people do, which I think is wrong to do because it really robs the people who are paying to see both acts from the joy and pleasure of seeing both acts be a hundred percent. If you go in an opening situation and you’ve got very little sound and very little lights and no soundcheck and getting treated really badly and not allowed to do certain things, you know, it affects your show and it affects what people are watching and witnessing and listening to, and it’s just not fair. I’ve run into that the last 25 years quite a bit, and with Michael it’s not that way. He basically gives you what you need and you get to go out there and do your thing. And we’re completely different players, so I’m not stepping on his toes in any way, nor is he stepping on mine. He’s a great guitar player and he’s got a great legacy and great catalog. We just want to put on a good show.

DH: Well, I’m sure it will be a fantastic show. Your version of “All Along the Watchtower” is one of my favorite songs. The guitar parts on there I find simply amazing. Jimi Hendrix’s version of that song is so iconic, did you feel any trepidation at all taking that one on when you decided to do it?

Lynch: Well, the way that record came down, and you’re referring to the “Furious George” record, is that I had submitted a bunch of songs that I wanted to do, and the record company basically said, “No.” Because they ran it by all these people and they said, “These are all too obscure. Nobody will know these bands.” I had, you know, some of these bands that I grew up that probably hardly anybody’s ever heard of, like the Groundhogs, and Savoy Brown, and the Comic Rooster, and one of my favorites was Boomerang, who had a great guitar player, you know, all kinds of different stuff, pretty obscure. The only band that made it on the record actually was Captain Beyond, one of the bands from back in the day. So they came back with all these well-known acts with well-known songs and I reluctantly agreed. And I actually wish I hadn’t. Maybe it was a good decision because these are songs people recognize, quick songs like Zeppelin songs and ZZ Top songs and Hendrix songs, you know, Hendrix doing Bob Dylan. You’ve got three days in a not-so-great studio to do all these amazing classics. Hendrix probably worked in Electric Ladyland for weeks or months, you know, knock yourself out. One thing you have to remember is, for me, sometimes things are just work, you know? There’s the love part of it and the creative part of it and all that’s wonderful and I do that anyways, but sometimes it’s just work. Like if you’re a plumber and somebody calls you up to fix their sink, you’ve got to make a living so ... and I’m sorry to make it sound so unromantic, but, I mean, there’s kind of nothing wrong with that because it is what we do for a living.

DH: That’s interesting to get that other view of it because, to me, this would seem like something – I mean when I play that CD, I honestly can never get it past that third track because I just keep playing that one over and over again and then I get to where I’m going ...

Lynch: My favorite track on there is the Robin Trower song ... “Bridge of Sighs.” And then I just put out another record similar to that called “Orchestral Mayhem.”

DH: Oh, I haven’t heard that one yet.

Lynch: Now that is different in the sense that all the songs except for one are public domain songs, so that they’re kind of classic, classical classic songs that nobody actually owns and, again, it was work for hire and I got hired to go into the studio for a couple of days and do this. But it actually came out really well. I enjoy listening to it and I think people will like it.

DH: I’ll have to check it out.

Lynch: Yeah, it’s called “Orchestral Mayhem,” I’m not sure, you’ll just have to go online.

DH: I’ve probably used up my allotted 20 minutes, I could probably talk to you for a long time.

Lynch: Yeah, absolutely.

DH: But I definitely appreciate your time.

Lynch: Yeah, next time I’ll make sure I don’t eat oysters on the way to Utah.

DH: Yeah, that’s been one of my disappointments, that I didn’t get to see you that night. But we’ll make up for it this time.

Lynch: You could have seen me, you just would of had to go to the back of the bus and look down on the floor and I was right there. But it was funny. Just in parting, I just wanted to mention I was watching “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” last night, which was filmed mostly in Utah, so anyway ...

DH: Robert Redford’s Sundance Resort is just 20 minutes from where we’re at right here.

Lynch: Ah, nice. He’s a wonderful guy and really gets behind what he supports and what he stands for and his efforts to kind of make the world a better place. He’s always used his money and his fame to kind of do good things, so I appreciate that.

DH: Do you do a meet and greet at all?

Lynch: Sometimes. But look me up, I’ll be there .. at the back of bus, lying on the floor throwing up, but I’ll be there.

DH: I’ll be the one not bringing the oysters.

Lynch: I appreciate that, thank you.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Dotting the I's of a stranger

I didn’t realize it at the time, but the genesis of this blog actually stemmed from an interview I did with Queensryche lead singer Geoff Tate a couple years ago. We were discussing his excitement at being able to branch out and take a villainous role in a movie titled “Houses of Eternity” that was due to begin shooting soon after a series of production delays.

“The theory of these films is nothing is sure until they roll the camera on you,” Tate said. “I guess even then you could end up on the cutting room floor ... ”

While “cutting room floor” is a phrase clearly associated with film, the more I reflected on Tate’s comment, the more I recognized facing the same process with every writing assignment. Whether it is covering a sporting event, writing a feature story or reviewing a concert, there is always additional information worthy of mention that never sees print for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it’s a deadline issue. Other times it’s a matter of available space. Often, some interesting tidbit just doesn’t fit into the flow of a story. One of my greatest writing frustrations is sitting on something that I figure someone, somehow, somewhere would be interested in reading.

While the floor around my computer isn’t literally littered with the scattered remnants of witty repartee, alliteration gone wild or undangling participles, “The Editing Room Floor” made a somewhat sexier blog title than, say, “The Nether Regions of a Reporter’s Notebook.” Not only will it be a way for me to empty that notebook, so to speak, from assignments of all varieties, but I also look forward to including full-length musician interviews, some reviews and the occasional reminiscences and ruminations of someone who has passionately followed rock music for more than 35 years.

So, welcome to “The Editing Room Floor” — and watch your step.